19 April 2021: Building on the recent investment by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to establish the National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory (NASCO), VistaMilk SFI Research Centre today announced the launch of a new and collaborative €1.4 million carbon sequestration research project with Dairy Research Ireland, the group which allocates funding from the dairy levy collected from Irish dairy farmers.

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre is a joint initiative between researchers at Teagasc, ICBF, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, Tyndall National Institute and Walton Institute for Information and Communications Systems Science. The €40 million Research Centre is jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and over 50 industry partners from the agricultural and ICT domains.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and storing it in plant material or in the soil. Carbon stored in soils is often called soil organic carbon. It is vital for soil health, improving their workability, water holding capacity, and productivity.

The recent addition of both national and EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets pose considerable challenges for the Irish agricultural sector. Following the publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, the agricultural sector will face legally binding targets with a 5-year target to be set later this summer. VistaMilk believes that there is an opportunity to greatly enhance the ability of the agricultural sector to achieve the new ambitious GHG targets for 2030, and the goal of carbon neutrality for 2050, by putting in place the necessary scientific research and infrastructure to rigorously quantify carbon sequestration.

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The collaborative research project announced today will leverage the new Department of Agriculture-funded National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory. This network of carbon dioxide monitoring towers is one of the most comprehensive in Europe and places Ireland at the forefront of soil carbon research. Vistamilk researchers will use this network to explore the impacts of farm management practices on a variety of soil types. The 4-year research project will be led by Dr Karl Richards and Professor Gary Lanigan (Environment, Soils and Land Use Research Department, Teagasc) in close collaboration with SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, UCD and Teagasc Moorepark.

Welcoming the announcement, the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, T.D., and the Minister of State with responsibility for research, Martin Heydon, T.D., added, “This builds on our investment to-date in measuring the emissions and opportunity for removals through our soils and hedges and is a critical step in developing opportunities that encourage and reward farmers capturing carbon. Moreover, if Ireland can provide rigorous measurements of carbon sequestration on a regular basis, it will underline the positive contribution that farming is making to reduce net emissions.”

Commenting on their investment in the project, Jim Beecher, Chairman of Dairy Research Ireland said, “Dairy Research Ireland is funded by dairy farmers and supports this project because it will give us the data to understand the emissions and sequestration effects of a variety of grass production systems. It is important that we are proactive in identifying and encouraging practices which reduce our emissions.”

Director of Research in Teagasc, Prof Frank O’Mara congratulated all involved saying “This research will point the way towards climate smart farming and will be central to providing the guidance and support to Irish farmers that will facilitate them moving to more climate friendly farming systems.”

Endorsing the announcement, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said “SFI Research Centres like VistaMilk have a key role to play in accelerating innovation in how we sustainably manage the green transition, helping to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Mitigating and adapting to climate change are critical issues for all and Ireland is well positioned to be a research leader in developing climate action solutions.”

Prof Laurence Shalloo, Deputy Director of VistaMilk said “VistaMilk is very excited about this collaboration and the outputs of this project have the potential to put science around measurement of sequestration levels in Irish grasslands across both mineral and peat soils. Clearly this will be a very large part of Ireland’s overall plan to meet carbon neutrality by 2050. This project also adds to other significant research work currently on-going in VistaMilk in the area of GHG emissions reduction”