The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has today (Thursday, November 19) announced that the department is investing in the establishment of a National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory.

Through the investment, Teagasc, on behalf of the department, will begin the intensive monitoring of carbon emissions and removals across a range of Irish soils.

The department has said it will put Ireland at the forefront internationally in terms of understanding, supporting and rewarding farmers for practices that build carbon stores in soils.

Minister McConalogue said: “How we manage the carbon locked up in our soils, and support farmers to implement practices that build carbon must be built on robust science.

This investment will create a significant bank of knowledge and information that will allow us to target and reward actions that remove carbon and store it in our soils.

“Farmers are best placed to play a proactive role in this area and I am confident they will have a positive impact in the initiative.”

Carbon targets

The minister noted that there is a need to improve the data in the National Inventory to “accurately reflect the actual emissions and sequestration from grasslands” in order to verify progress towards targets.

He added that there is a lack of data available for determining the change in soil carbon stocks in grasslands on organic and mineral soils in Ireland due to a lack of relevant research, data collection and monitoring infrastructure.

Minister of State for biodiversity and land use Pippa Hackett said: “This soil carbon observatory will provide hugely valuable data on the carbon content of our soils, and should complement the data which will be collected from soil sampling and biodiversity studies next year.

In addition, a new EIP [European Innovation Partnerships] project on rewetting farmed peatlands due to begin next year, will also provide us with important information.

“All of this data will help us to inform new agri-environmental schemes of the future, which can deliver for climate action and biodiversity,” she concluded.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) Martin Heydon added: “Farmers and researchers alike have identified the opportunities here and through this innovative project, we are putting in place the most comprehensive monitoring programme of any country to underpin scientifically our actions in this regard.”

The National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory will comprise up to 10 “Flux Towers” on agricultural systems across a range of soil types adding value to existing projects including; the industry co-funded Teagasc SignPost farms and the Agricultural Catchments Programme.

The observatory will place Ireland at the forefront of EU carbon sequestration research and will enable Ireland to:

  • Better quantify and model soil carbon emissions and sinks from agricultural land;
  • Enable mitigation measures to increase carbon sequestration to be included in the national inventory;
  • Participate in the EU ICOS (Integrated Carbon Observation System) network;
  • Enable Ireland to benefit from the 2018 EU Effort Sharing Regulation.

Teagasc involvement

Director of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle said: “This investment will accelerate our scientific understanding of the quantity of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that is locked up in our soils.

“It will complement the Teagasc SignPost farms initiative and provide farmers with the science behind how their farm management practices can increase soil carbon storage,” Boyle concluded.