Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) have secured international funding for projects aimed at accelerating net zero, one of which will see them join a €13.5 million coalition project.

QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) announced the funding today (Tuesday, December 6) and said the money will be invested purely into the area of agriculture and environmental sustainability.

The ‘Facilitating Innovations for Resilient Livestock Farming Systems’ project is part of the €13.5 million Horizon Europe investment into a coalition of 37 research and industry partners from 14 countries across Europe and Australia.

QUB, with support from AFBI, will join this coalition and explore options for improved environmental outcomes.

The project will be led by Dr. Katerina Theodoridou of IGFS, in collaboration with Dr. Tianhai Yan of AFBI.

They will receive just under €500,000 to explore the use of multi-species swards such as clover, chicory and plantain to improve environmental resilience, including biodiversity and better soil health.

Agricultural economists at QUB will also be exploring the role of new technologies and innovations in driving sustainability on farms.

A cross-country initiative

Prof. Nigel Scollan, director of IGFS, said the projects will support solutions to sustainability at a local, national and international level.

“There is an urgent need for research that is not only concerned with climate change mitigation but carried out in a joined-up manner, across borders and disciplines,” he said.

“This will provide the highest opportunity to support farming and deliver cutting-edge research with impact to help future-proof the agri-food industry.”

Director of sustainable agrifood sciences at AFBI, Dr. Elizabeth Magowan added: “This is what the Queen’s-AFBI Alliance is all about – joining forces in Northern Ireland and beyond to maximise resources, knowledge and expertise to better meet the net zero challenge.

“These recent funding success stories are testament to the expertise between AFBI and Queen’s and are very encouraging in our strive to deliver solutions locally with global impact.”

Virtual fencing

Another successful project is the ‘Role of Virtual Fencing in Sustainable Grazing Management’ which received all-Ireland Higher Education Authority (HEA) funding of €200,000 to explore wearable technology for livestock.

The aim of this is to enhance sustainability by facilitating more precise grazing management in hills and uplands, more effectively keeping animals out of protected areas and wildlife zones.

With the aid of GPS and wearable collars on animals, farmers will be able to set ‘virtual boundaries’ which, if crossed, will let off a warning sound.

If the animal continues to cross the boundary, it will receive an electric pulse similar to one from a physical electric fence. Initial studies of the product show that animals quickly learn to respond to the initial warning sound.

The HEA project is led by University College Dublin with Dr. Gareth Arnott from IGFS as the Northern Ireland lead and Dr. Francis Lively of AFBI as a third partner.

As well as examining the efficacy of the new technology from a range of perspectives, the QUB team will be looking at implications for animal behaviour and welfare.