The climate-neutral, biodiversity-friendly farm offering blueprint for sustainable dairy industry

Posted on: 21 June 2021

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris today awarded the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Future Innovator Prize to a project that will help a dairy farm achieve net-zero emissions by 2027.

Professor Kevin O’Connor at University College Dublin (UCD) and his Farm Zero C team, which includes Professor Jane Stout from Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, has been awarded €2 million to help deliver the climate-neutral farm in Cork, with plans to extend the strategy to a further 5,000 farms within five years.

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

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.

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.

Professor Jane Stout said:

“Sustainability is not all about reducing carbon, it’s not even just about tackling climate change. This project goes beyond carbon-neutrality to ensure farming is also biodiversity friendly, and that the multiple benefits from nature on farmland are quantified and valued. Creating a way to develop natural capital accounts at farm scale will allow farmers to track changes in the extent and condition of ecosystems on their farms, as well as the flows of services and benefits that those ecosystems provide.”

Professor Kevin O’Connor, Director of the SFI BiOrbic Research Centre in UCD, collected the award on behalf of his team. He said:

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. 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. 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.”

Speaking today, Minister Simon Harris said:

“Congratulations to Professor Kevin O’Connor and the Farm Zero C team. Innovative and disruptive ideas like the Farm Zero C project will become increasingly important as we deliver against the Government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan and significantly reduce our carbon emissions.

“My Department’s support for projects like this one, that have real world impacts, really gives me not only pride, but confidence, as we strive to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% over the next decade.” 

Martin Heydon, Minister of State with special responsibility for Agri-Food Research and Development, the Bioeconomy, Farm Safety and New Market Development added:

“Congratulations to the Carbery Group and the Farm Zero C team for developing this pioneering and holistic approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the health and resilience of a working farm. This is the Irish bioeconomy in action safeguarding farmer’s livelihoods whilst protecting our climate and environment.”   

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