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Teagasc, VistaMilk begin carbon sequestration study

Farmers across the island are planting and conserving hedgerows and trees to maximise the sequestration process



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12 January 2023

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre and Teagasc are conducting the most comprehensive study of carbon sequestration ever undertaken in Ireland. They are working under the auspices of the National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory (NASCO) to establish an accurate base line for the current carbon absorption rates across many different Irish soil types and land usages.

Carbon sequestration is the process of locking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil and keeping it there. Ireland is 65% grassland, and farmers across the island are planting and conserving hedgerows and trees to maximise the sequestration process. Measuring quantities sequestered, to establish baselines and assess the effect they could have on Ireland’s total emission figures is challenging.

Established in 2018, the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre identifies challenges and solves problems for the Irish dairy sector in four specific areas – soil, pasture, cow, and food. It is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM).

“This work is essential as we currently do not have accurate figures for carbon sequestration in Ireland, but they could be understated,” said Prof Gary Lanigan, Principal Research Officer and leader of the VistaMilk project co-funded by Dairy Research Ireland. “Our work will help establish a baseline and, using predictive modelling, suggest to farmers courses of action to increase carbon uptake on their land.

“It’s not easy – there’s hundreds of tonnes of background carbon in the soil and we’re measuring changes of one or two tonnes, but a combination of methods is helping deliver results. We’re using soil sampling, field comparisons, farmer contributions (through the Bord Bia ‘Carbon Navigator’), observation data from drones and from satellites in space.

“Probably the most important weapon in our arsenal, however, are carbon towers capable of measuring really small changes in the amount of carbon in the air 10 times a second. In fact, our set up is the densest distribution of carbon towers in Europe and we are measuring methane as well.”

Data from all these measurement solutions informs predictive modelling used to recommend to farmers the ways they can affect carbon sequestration, either increasing or decreasing it.

Prof Lanigan said the results of the research will “allow us to offer realistic solutions to those that are the custodians of our lands, particularly the 17,500 Irish dairy farming families, that will improve Ireland’s ability to sequester carbon to be offset against the nation’s GHG emissions.

“We will be able to show how things like planting new hedgerows or the distribution of trees in a field, better pasture management and partial rewetting of peatland can allow farming to thrive yet reduce its carbon output without having to reduce the Irish herd.”

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