Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue along with Minister of State, Pippa Hackett, have today (Tuesday, October 5) announced that their department is investing in two key projects that support carbon storage in soils. 

One of the projects will establish the extent of peat soil in agricultural management, while the second will monitor soil moisture levels to better understand the removal and loss of carbon from the soils.

The ministers have said that both projects will help achieve the government’s climate objectives, particularly in respect of grasslands on drained organic soils. 

Valuable data on carbon storage

Making the announcement Minister McConologue said: “These projects will provide hugely valuable data on the moisture content of our soils, the location of carbon rich soils, and the historical land use change that peatlands have undergone in the last 200 years.

“They will also complement the data which will be collected from the recently announced National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory, the soil sampling and biodiversity studies, and the learnings from the new EIP projects on rewetting farmed peatlands, which will all help deliver on climate action and biodiversity through increased information and understanding.”

Minister Hackett added: “I am delighted to be in a position to launch the National Soil Moisture Monitoring Network here in my own county of Offaly, today.

“Our soil is one of the most important tools we have to address the climate and biodiversity crisis. The way we manage and farm it heavily influences the carbon it can sequester and store.”

The junior minister added that these projects will provide a fuller understanding of the nature of Ireland’s soil and will help in the delivery of objectives on climate action.

Soil data to tackle climate change

The projects are expected to deliver increased and refined data and soil maps that inform the monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gases (GHGs) through two key actions: Identification of potential areas for reduced management intensity; and the development of a National Soil Moisture Monitoring network.

The soil maps that are currently available are not at a scale to accurately identify, at field level, the location of peat soils.

Accurate peatland maps will be part of the requirements to incorporate reduced management of farmed peatlands into a larger agri-environment programme under Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan (CSP).

Research is therefore required to enable the precise identification of agricultural land use, and intensity of land use on former peatlands, which will in turn facilitate better management of these systems and help to mitigate national emissions, according to the ministers.

A Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) research proposal will be co-funded with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address this gap.

It will use the Bog Commissioners Maps (a survey of over one million acres of bogs in Ireland between 1810 and 1814), as the basis of its research. 

The project plans to acquire a high-quality digital version of the complete series of the Bog Commissioners Maps and other available peat maps in order to facilitate detailed evaluation and comparison to both the Copernicus programme and recent very high-resolution aerial imagery, which will in turn enable precise identification of agricultural areas that occur on drained carbon rich soils.

National Soil Moisture Monitoring Network

According to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), a better scientific understanding of soil moisture dynamics is urgently needed, as the amount of water held in the soil influences a wide range of soil and plant processes, as well as the soil-atmosphere energy balance.

This affects e.g., weather, plant growth and nutrient uptake, nutrient and carbon dynamics, and GHG emissions.

The removal of soil moisture through the draining of peat soils, and the subsequent emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result, is one example of the effect soil moisture levels can have on soil. 

Funding will be provided to the National Soil Moisture Monitoring Network, a working group on agro-meterology which comprises researchers from University College Dublin (UCD); Teagasc; NUI, Galway; TCD; and Dublin City University (DCU) to purchase soil moisture monitoring equipment.

A move towards more accurate measurement-based (rather than modelled) real-time reporting of soil moisture status would be of enormous benefit to a range of stakeholders, according to DAFM.

These include farmers and others involved in agriculture, foresters and bioenergy suppliers, those involved in peatland conservation and restoration, flood and drought forecasters, Irish water and other managers of both surface and groundwater resources, and many stakeholders from education and research, including Met Éireann.