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22 Jan 2022

Offaly to spearhead Carbon Farming Pilot

Offaly to spearhead Carbon Farming Pilot

Pictured on the Egan farm in north-west Offaly are l. to r. Dr Douglas McMillan, founder of Green Restoration Ireland, Ciaráin Egan, Adrian Egan, and Rachel Feely

Green Restoration Ireland (GRI), a cooperative founded in 2019, has launched a new European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture (EIP-Agri) to develop baseline studies with a pilot cohort of 30 farms with peat soils in the West Offaly catchments of the Silver, Camcor, and the Little Brosna rivers.

“This is a farmer-science led program,” says project coordinator and Birr resident, Eimhin Shortt, “we are inviting farmers interested in farming for nature, water-quality, and soil improvements to work with us and our research partners in pioneering new methods of managing converted peatlands and regenerative approaches to land management here in Ireland.”

The EIP-Agri program is called Farm:Carbon and has issued call letters to farmers on peat soils across key focus areas around peatlands within the three catchments earlier this week. With a budget of 1.1million euro the program will be continuing into early 2023 and will involve a collaborative approach with diverse partners at the local, national, and international levels. The focus will be on improving livelihoods for farmers at all scales by creating payment-for-results streams for the ‘secondary production’ of ecosystem services as public goods, including avoided greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration, water quality improvements, and enhancing aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity.

“The Farm:Carbon project is a unique chance for farmers in this area to pilot new methods of farming and pave the way for their fellow agricultural colleagues. With help and guidance from the team, farmers will have the capacity to ‘steer the ship’ in making effective yet practical changes to their everyday work, resulting in a positive outcome for both the land being farmed and in turn the livelihoods of farmers, both today and into the future,” said Rachel Feely, Project Officer, Farm:Carbon.

The work will begin with a whole-farm survey of the ‘lighthouse farm’ sites to identify biodiversity and habitats on site, measure the carbon stock in peatland areas and also identify health and safety issues. In farming terms, this translates to simple practices combined in the right way, specific to site-specific conditions, or ‘the right measure in the right place’.

The wide range of measures and practices supported by the programme include planned grazing, peatland conservation and rewetting, paludiculture, multi-species swards, cover cropping, min and no-till systems, nature-based water management solutions, hedgerow and habitat establishment, riparian woodlands, agroforestry and buffer strips. ‘Before’ and ‘after’ scientific monitoring will determine what improvements are achieved by the different measures.

“We wrote our proposal in the last quarter of 2020, and were awarded in early 2021. By April the EU announced the launch of the Carbon Farming initiative, an EU-wide results-based-framework, that sets out conditions for the creation of carbon farming schemes across the European Union. We really couldn’t be coming into this work at a better time,” Eimhin continued.

“Farmers have been led by short-term policies that have created perverse incentives for land management practices that are damaging the living fabric of the countryside, and contributing to the loss of nature, and to ongoing damage to communities and the climate. We are inviting farmers to take work with us, towards developing nature-friendly practices and through these - better policies, rewarding more than simple production outcomes by incentivising improvements to water quality, carbon sequestration/storage, and better habitat stewardship for biodiversity.”

Project manager and one of Green Restoration Ireland's founders Dr. Douglas McMillan, an ecologist, and environmental management systems specialist with a background in peatland restoration notes the importance of peat soils and how we work with them.

He said: “Ireland has over a million hectares of degraded peatlands emitting millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide every year and about 300,000 hectares of this are farmed peatlands, mainly pasture. While we will be working on all aspects of the farm, the primary focus of the EIP is on the peatland areas so we will be investigating a range of options from rewetting to paludiculture (‘wet’ agriculture) to partial resetting. We are really looking forward to collaborating with farmers and our partners to find practical solutions to ensuring the long-term sustainability of these farms.”

On July 16th at 7.30pm, the Project Team will host an introductory webinar, launched by Offaly's Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Pippa Hackett, and which will feature a range of short presentations from GRI and its project partners including Dr. Brendan Dunford of the Burren Beo Trust, Donal Sheehan, founder of the BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration In Dairying Environment) EIP, Per Eric Mellander, Chief Scientist with the Agricultural Catchments program, advisor David Webster with the water based agricultural advisory service ASSAP, Margaret Keegan from the Local Authority Waters program LAWPRO.

“This recalibration in our relationship with peatlands will create a more robust and sustainable agriculture that financially supports those who work the land. We’re committed to developing a dynamic that enhances agricultural inheritance and ensures the future prosperity of Irish farming for the new green economy. This new direction will take us down old paths with once familiar sensations, where the call of the curlew heralds the morning,” Eoghan Connaughton, Project Officer, Farm:Carbon said.

For more information see www.farmcarbon.ie, email EIP@farmcarbon.ie or call (089) 2324012.

“The project team would like to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Agriculture, the personnel of the Locally Lead Section, our partners in LAWPro and all of our wider project network for their foresight and persistent support in bringing this project to fruition here in the midlands.”

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