VistaMilk Quantify Carbon Sequestration

The project commenced in February 2021, and is a four year project. Science Foundation Ireland provides the bulk of the funding and Dairy Research Ireland provides the industry contribution.
Carbon Sequestration Research Small 2
Research team and flux tower on a farmers land in the Agricultural Catchment Programme Timoleague catchment - Source: Teagasc

The new National Climate plan aims to reduce GHG emissions from the State by 51% by 2030, and this poses a considerable challenge for Irish Agriculture. Enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration and reducing soil-based CO2 emissions offers the potential to reduce emissions whilst maintaining productivity and to further reduce the C footprint of Irish agricultural produce.

Agricultural soils are currently reported as a net source of carbon emissions due to historic drainage of peat soils for agricultural use. Changing management of drained peat soils provides an opportunity to reduce emissions and protect our largest carbon sink, with over a billion tonnes of carbon stored in these soils.

Reducing carbon emissions and enhancing C sequestration also offers value for money, with abatement from organic soils alone representing savings ranging from €109m to €327m over the period 2021-2030, but this is highly uncertain. National data are required to better quantify soil carbon emissions and sinks from agricultural land, enable mitigation measures to be included in the national inventory, and enable Ireland to benefit from the 2018 EU Effort Sharing Regulation.

Tower On Agricultural Catchment Programme Timoleague Catchment
Flux tower on a farmers land in the Agricultural Catchment Programme Timoleague catchment – Source: Teagasc

Accurate estimates of net emissions from our drained organic soils and carbon sinks associated with mineral soils is essential to enable the sector to achieve the ambitions set out in the Programme for Government, and the EU Farm to Fork communication strategy, as well as having the potential to create a very positive narrative around emissions in agriculture for the dairy sector.

Annual changes in soil carbon, in response to land use change or land management change, are small relative to background soil carbon levels and it can take a number of years to verify measurable levels.

The project will involve Soil C Monitoring on a variety of soils and management types, carbon dioxide flux monitoring, Field Scale monitoring for mineral soils, remote sensing and activity data and ecosystem modelling of Carbon, Nitrogen and water cycles, building on the recent funded national  agricultural soil carbon observatory (–air-quality/soil-carbon/national-agricultural-soil-carbon-observatory/) by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.


The outputs will be

  • Quantification of gross carbon sequestration of managed pasture across a range of soil types for inclusion in Life Cycle Assessment.
  • It will quantify the carbon sequestration potential of pasture management, and establish the relationships between changes in carbon dioxide fluxes and changes in soil carbon pools associated with pasture management.

Modelling of carbon sinks and sources will allow for a move towards Tier 3 land management factors. Refinement of the models will allow for the development of more accurate decision support tools for farmers in terms of relating sward management decisions to enhanced carbon sequestration.