The philosophy of Teagasc’s Environment, Soils and Land Use Department focuses on how to improve the environmental efficiency of Irish farms, according to Karl Richards of Teagasc.

The Head of the section spoke to Agriland recently at the launch of the redevelopment plan for Johnstown Castle.

According to Richards, the Johnstown Castle section will focus on improving this efficiency without placing blockades in the path of farmers potential production.

He also highlighted the key areas this department are focusing on which includes soil fertility, water quality, greenhouse gases and biodiversity.

Soil Fertility

According to Richards, soil fertility is at the heart of agriculture, it is the foundation stone for both tillage and grassland farming.

The Environment, Soils and Land Use section of Teagasc has presented some interesting results in regards to soil fertility.

“Some worrying statistics out there at the moment show that 90% of our soils are suboptimum in terms of soil fertility for lime, Phosphorous or Potassium.

“So on 90% of our soils farmers are not getting the most out of their resources,” the Teagasc man said.

The organisation are also set to unveil a new Nutrient Management Planning programme online, which will allow all farmers across Ireland to record the soil fertility of their farms in this new national database.

The Department based in Johnstown Castle also published the National Soil Survey.

“For the first time we have accurate soil information across the country, now it isn’t down to a field to field scale, but it is a tool that are farmer or an advisor can help better understand the soils on their farm.”

soil samples 0109

Water Quality

At present, the research centre has a huge project in operation which is evaluating the effects of both the Nitrates Directive and the Water Frame-Work Directive on the quality of Irish water.

“Both of these place stringent obligations on farmers to meet water quality targets in terms of good water status.”

The state agency also offers farmers practical advice on how to meet the above-mentioned directives and obligations

The Catchments Programme also provides farmers with practical advice on how they can meet those obligations, it is a research and knowledge transfer project, with advisors working across six catchments.”

Water 1 Agriland

Greenhouse Gases

The environmental section of Teagasc which is based in Johnstown Castle, are the co-ordinators and managers of the greenhouse gas initiative for Ireland.

According to Richards, the work of this department is particularly important if Ireland is to meet the targets set out for Irish agriculture in 2020.

“Currently, agriculture accounts for about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions nationally.

“The targets for 2020 are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and at the same time we are trying to increase productivity on farms by up to 50%.”

The Teagasc Head added that these ambitious targets need to be addressed in a sustainable way that farmers can reduce their carbon footprint while also meeting the production potential aspirations.

“We are not trying to put environmental blockages in their (farmers) way, but we are trying to work with them to improve the efficiency of their systems,” said Richards.

Soil fertility and fertiliser applications have a huge impact on greenhouses gases, according to Richards.

Improved soil fertility will have a huge impact on greenhouse gases as it will allow them to use the fertilisers more efficiently on their farms.

The research centre are currently involved in a range of research projects examining the most effective way to limit the formation of Nitrous Oxide from Calcium Ammonium Nitrate fertilisers.

This aspect of research is important, he said, as 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions result from Nitrogen-based fertiliser applications.

“Nitrogen fertilisers account for around 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions, whatever we can do to optimise the use of N fertiliser will have a big impact on greenhouse gases nationally.”

Fertiliser spreading on grassland. Photo O'Gorman Photography.


There are a number of policies at European and national level that farmers and the industry must implement to halt the decline of biodiversity, according to Richards.

To meet these policy changes, he said, Teagasc have a number of researchers based out of Johnstown Castle developing new practical and low-cost ways to allow farmers to improve biodiversity on their farms.

“Those practice measures such as GLAS, can have a really important role in enhancing biodiversity on our farms.”

The Teagasc team based in Johnstown Castle biodiversity programme are also involved in trying to come up with quantifiable indicators for biodiversity, said the Head of the Department.

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