VistaMilk SFI Research Centre has launched a €1.4 million carbon sequestration project.

The project is in collaboration with Dairy Research Ireland, the group that allocates funding from the dairy levy collected from Irish dairy farmers.

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 poses 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 five-year target to be set later this summer.

VistaMilk said it 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”.

Carbon sequestration project

The research project will leverage the new Department of Agriculture-funded National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory. 

This network of carbon dioxide monitoring towers, which is “one of the most comprehensive in Europe and places Ireland at the forefront of soil carbon research”, will be used by VistaMilk researchers to explore the impacts of farm management practices on a variety of soil types.

The four-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, University College Dublin (UCD) and Teagasc Moorepark.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue and the Minister of State with responsibility for research Martin Heydon said:

“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.”

Director of Research in Teagasc Professor Frank O’Mara added that 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”.

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, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and over 50 industry partners from the agricultural and ICT domains.