Professor Kevin O’Connor and his Farm Zero C team at University College Dublin (UCD) – in partnership with Carbery Group – has 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.
The award is part of the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Future Innovator Prize.
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.
They also examined how using renewable energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and changing livestock feed affects how much methane gas they produce.
Farm Zero C is using Shinagh Farm near Bandon, Co Cork - which is owned by the farmers of four West Cork Co-ops - as a demonstrator for the project and the goal is that Shinagh will achieve net-zero emissions by 2027.
Minister for Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said that innovative and disruptive ideas like the Farm Zero C project will become increasingly important as Ireland delivers the Government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan and focuses on significantly reducing its 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,” he added.
Professor O'Connor, meanwhile, said agriculture is a critically important sector for Ireland – both socially and economically - and he highlighted how dairy farms have huge potential to help Ireland to address 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,” the Professor 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.”
CEO Carbery Group, Jason Hawkins added: “Sustainability is one of our core business priorities at Carbery and, as a co-op, has always been intrinsic to how we operate.
“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.”
Agriculture accounts for 35.3% of Ireland’s GHGs, 95% of which are emissions associated with livestock agriculture.
The proposed solution from the Farm Zero C team in UCD comprises a combination of diverse climate mitigation strategies that when combined reduce the GHGs of farms, increase biodiversity, quantify the value of natural capital, decrease the farm’s operational cost, and increase the value of its products.