€2m for Irish project to help 5,000 farms reach net zero emissions

A project that will help dairy farms achieve net zero emissions has been awarded €2m and plans are afoot to extend the strategy to 5,000 farms within five years.

Science Foundation Ireland’s Future Innovator Prize has been awarded to Professor Kevin O’Connor and his Farm Zero C team at UCD.

O’Connor and his team have been awarded €2m to help deliver the climate-neutral farm in Cork, with plans to extend the strategy to a further 5,000 farms within five years.

“With Farm Zero C, our emphasis is on the practical – the solutions we find have to be implementable on the typical Irish family farm”

As part of the SFI Zero Emissions Challenge, Farm Zero C, in partnership with dairy producer Carbery Group, studied how planting different types of grasses and clovers on pastures and supporting hedgerows can boost biodiversity and soil health, how using renewable energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and how changing what we feed livestock affects how much methane gas they produce.

Agriculture accounts for 35.3pc of Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which 95pc are emissions associated with livestock agriculture.

Cream of the crop

“Agriculture is a critically important sector for Ireland socially and economically and dairy farms have huge potential to help Ireland to address two existential challenges, climate change and biodiversity loss,” said Prof O’Connor who is director of the SFI BiOrbic Research Centre at UCD.

Farm Zero C is using Shinagh Farm near Bandon, Co. Cork, owned by the farmers of four West Cork Co-ops, as a demonstrator for this project, with the goal that Shinagh will achieve net-zero emissions by 2027.

“Farm Zero C is building a holistic plan to progressively bring farm emissions to net zero, enhance biodiversity, and integrate natural capital and digitalisation into the farm business,” O’Connor continued.

“We have brought the very best national and international partners together to address the challenge. From the outset Carbery group and the Shinagh farm in West Cork have been incredible societal champions and we look forward to working together to roll out the findings to as many farmers as possible.”

Wider deployment will be achieved through a mobile app. This will integrate farm and satellite data, habitat mapping and natural capital accounting, to provide users with information on the carbon footprint of their activities and to develop strategies to mitigate these.

“Sustainability is one of our core business priorities at Carbery and, as a co-op, has always been intrinsic to how we operate,” said Carbery Group CEO Jason Hawkins.

“We work in partnership with our community to solve problems, and our relationship with BiOrbic is a good example of business and academia working together with farmers to create a sustainable future for dairy farming. With Farm Zero C, our emphasis is on the practical – the solutions we find have to be implementable on the typical Irish family farm. With this project, our partners and the support from Science Foundation Ireland, we are confident that we can achieve this aim.”

As part of the SFI Zero Emissions Challenge, a special prize of €500,000 was awarded to Dr Tony Keene and his team at LiCoRICE, University College Dublin (UCD), in recognition of the potential impact of their project to bring lithium cobalt batteries into the circular economy to decarbonise road transport. Dr David McCloskey’s team at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) were also awarded a special prize of €500,000 for their SolarCool project, which is a cost-effective technology that improves efficiency of existing and future solar PV technologies.

“The SFI Future Innovator Prize is part of an approach to cultivate challenge-based funding in Ireland to accelerate and validate excellent and innovative solutions to critical societal and global issues,” said Professor Mark Ferguson, director-general of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Irish Government.

“The Farm Zero C project, led by Professor Kevin O’Connor, epitomises this ethos as it provides a solution that can enable Ireland’s important dairy farming industry to become carbon neutral.”

By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 22 June 2021