Sustainability features strongly in 23 European Innovation Partnerships projects, with a €59m total investment from the Department of Agriculture.
These rural projects focus variously on biodiversity, organic production, pollinators, water quality, flood management, soils, farming in an archaeological landscape, and targeting unutilised agricultural biomass.
Members of the public can get an insight into these at a nationwide exhibition which commenced at the department’s Kildare St, Dublin headquarters in mid-April.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said: “We are committed to building a sustainable agricultural system that respects the environment. The agriculture sector is determined to play its part in responding to the challenges before us on climate, water quality and biodiversity. We are investing €59m in these locally-led schemes to achieve these goals at a local level by stimulating and developing innovative new approaches to tackling environmental challenges in a targeted way. This targeted approach to specific challenges in specific areas can complement our larger national agri-environmental schemes.”
These European Innovation Partnership (EIP) schemes typically involve farmers, researchers, scientists and advisers coming together to address a specific local environmental issue.
The projects, which emerged from a rigorous selection process, are performance-based, rather compliance-based, which basically means farmers are paid for results.
A similar shift is proposed for the new CAP in 2020, from the established current compliance base to a performance base.
The 23 EIP schemes include two major projects for conservation of endangered species — the €10m hen harrier scheme and the €25m pearl mussel. There’s also a project to save the Irish curlew.
Both the hen harrier and Irish curlew projects aim for sustainable management of farmland in the most important hen harrier habitats and breeding sites for curlews.
For example, innovative methods such as temporary electric fences to reduce predation, and protect and enhance suitable habitats for curlews will be tried out.
The Pearl Mussel Project is a results-based agri-environmental scheme that protects and enhances the mussel habitats in rivers. Farmers will receive payment for delivery of environmental results — a principle welcomed by farmers, which runs through many of the 23 EIP schemes, and differentiates them from most existing, compliance-based farm schemes.
A number of EIP projects aim to address issues of local concern such as improving water quality and restoring small scale farming enterprises.
For example, elevated bacteria levels in bathing water at Duncannon beach in Co Wexford, together with the loss of its Blue Flag status of environmental excellence in 2007, had a major impact on the tourism potential of the area.
The Duncannon Blue Flag Farming and Communities project aims to contribute to recovery of the Blue Flag, by reducing pollution from agricultural and domestic sources, whilst protecting farm incomes. A farm-specific pollution potential zone plan will be created for each farm. Farmers will be provided with a full-time sustainability manager who will guide them through their plans.
The Allow (Duhallow Farming for Blue Dot Catchments) project aims to restore the high ecological status of the River Allow, a high-status objective water body in an agricultural catchment in North Cork. The project will see up to 100 farmers participate in enhancing and restoring freshwater and terrestrial habitats on their farms.
Farm-specific management plans will be developed in close association with the farmers. A results-based payment system will reward participating farmers for improving and maintaining the nature value of their farms.
Similarly, the Mulkear EIP project focuses on improving water quality, riparian management and in-stream habitat, by working with farmers in Co Limerick.
The Farming Rathcroghan Project in Co Roscommon will test innovative management solutions to sustain a viable farming economy in harmony with the cultural and ecological assets of the landscape.
Pedestrian route-ways will be devised to provide public access to the landscape.
The Cúlra Créafóige (Cultivation Renewal) Programme aims to stimulate vitality and socio-economic renewal, by supporting and restoring small-scale farming enterprises in the Cloughaneely district of west Donegal.
Each year, 4.86 hectares of land will be ploughed and planted in order to re-engage livestock owners and others with the skills and benefits of cultivation.
The Caomhnú Árann project aims to manage the habitats of the Aran Islands to maximise their agricultural and ecological output. A simplified scoring system that enables farmers to self-assess the habitat status of land and take steps to improve the score will be developed.
Remote sensing tools for habitat scoring, work monitoring and assessment, and evaluation of self-assessment scores will also be developed.
Five projects focus on improving the economic viability of hill farming, while improving habitat management and biodiversity value.
The Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS) five-year pilot scheme for the Wicklow/Dublin Uplands builds on the experiences of past and ongoing projects to improve habitat quality, biodiversity value and agricultural productivity.
As part of the project, five commonage groups will be established to get farmers back, grazing and managing in a sustainable manner.
The Blackstairs Farming Futures (BFF) Sustainable farming project in the Blackstairs Mountains of south Leinster will lead to innovative approaches to add value to hill farming while improving habitats.
Good habitat condition will be rewarded, and best practice techniques to improve habitat quality will be trialled.
The North Connemara Locally Led Agri-environmental Scheme aims to ensure the long-term economic viability of hill farming in the Twelve Bens/Maumturks area.
Participants will be trained in use of modern technology, and will remove rhododendron encroachment by non-chemical methods. A blackface sheep initiative will be developed, whereby the indigenous sheep breed will be maintained and enhanced.
The Inishowen Upland Farmers Project aims to improve the economic sustainability of farming High Nature Value land in the north Donegal peninsula, and deliver on environmental sustainability, by increasing biodiversity, improving water quality, and combating climate change.
The Sustainable Agricultural Plan for the MacGillycuddy Reeks project aims to improve the economic viability of farming in the Co Kerry mountains, and to prevent further habitat damage from increasing recreational pressures. Farmer-led groups will be set up to manage the uplands in a sustainable manner. A landowner ranger system will be established, to manage recreational pressures impacting on the agricultural practices and habitats in the Reeks.
Cattle breeds suitable for managing upland peat and grass will be reintroduced.
Given the current focus on emissions from the agriculture sector, it is not surprising that a number of EIP projects focus on reducing farm greenhouse gas emissions.
The Small Biogas Demonstration Programme (SBDP) aims to develop small scale biogas as a tool to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact.
The project will stimulate deployment of innovative on-farm small-scale biogas production, by providing support and a capital contribution to three demonstration projects.
Data from the demonstration projects will improve understanding of the possible reduction in farm greenhouse gas emissions with biogas in a closed loop system on the farm.
The BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration in a Dairying Environment) project in Co Cork aims to conserve, enhance and restore habitats in lowland intensive farmland, without unduly affecting agricultural production.
A biodiversity management plan will be developed with participating farmers that identifies priority actions to maintain and enhance farmland wildlife, including hedgerow management, field margins, retention of winter stubble on cereal farms, riparian buffer strips, conservation of existing farm habitats and native woodlands.
The Biomass to Biochar for Farm Bioeconomy (BBFB) project aims to pilot the conversion of unutilised agricultural biomass, such as rushes removed from pasture areas.
A mobile pyrolysis unit will be tested, to produce biochar on-site, working with farmers who act as producers and end-users, to demonstrate a carbon-neutral approach to managing “undesirable” biomass (such as scrub and rushes) while increasing farm productivity.
Biochar added to soil can draw down carbon, increase fertility in acidic soils, and increase yield and productivity.
Two EIP projects aim to boost biological farming and adoption of conservation practices in tillage farming.
The Danú Farming Group’s biological farming transition programme is aimed at farmers in the midlands.
The Enable Conservation Tillage project encourages practices which can reduce production costs and improve sustainability. This nationwide project will involve 10 arable farms with different cultivation systems.
The decline in pollinator populations is addressed by the Protecting Farmland Pollinators project in Co Kildare, which aims to make farms more pollinator friendly.
Pollinator measures will be tested, and an innovative farm scoring system will quantify how pollinator-friendly each farm is, for use in a simple, results-based payment method, that encourages and assists farmers to improve their farm pollinator scores.
The Biorefinery Glas small-scale farmer-led green biorefineries project aims to improve sustainability and resource efficiency by creating a fibre press-cake fodder which improves the nitrogen to milk conversion efficiency in cattle, and a protein concentrate feed product suitable for monogastrics.
There is an expected reduction in indirect GHG emissions, through substitution of soybean imports for use in monogastric (for example, pigs) feed. The project runs from 2019 to 2020.
The Maximising Organic Production System (MOPS) integrated cropping systems project aims to optimise organic production and to improve short supply chains. A group of 11 farmers have come together to address these issues facing the organic industry. The project commenced last year and will conclude in 2020.
Improving genetic gain in the Irish sheep industry is the aim of the OviData project.
It will apply innovative genomic technologies. DNA will be collected by ear biopsy from breeding animals and their progeny in selected participating flocks (1,500 breeding ewes and rams) for genotyping. Data on lameness, dags, mastitis, and longevity will be collected.