Article appeared in issue 3, 2020

Showing the way

Teagasc is launching a new Signpost programme to prompt climate action by all Irish farmers
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The Signpost programme is a multi-year campaign to engage with Irish farmers around the issue of climate action. It will encourage and demonstrate to farmers how to achieve early progress in reducing gaseous emissions from Irish agriculture, while also improving water quality, maintaining and improving biodiversity and creating more profitable and sustainable farming enterprises.

The Signpost programme will also act as a test-bed for on-farm carbon sequestration measurements so that this can, in time, be taken into account by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the national Greenhouse Gas inventory. It will be a collaborative programme, led by Teagasc, relevant industry partners and state bodies.

 

What are the objectives of the programme? 

1)    To lead and support the transition of Irish farming towards more sustainable farming systems; 

2)    To reduce agricultural emissions, specifically, GHG emissions to the range 17.5 – 19.0 MtCO2 eq. by 2030; and ammonia emissions by 5% below 2005 levels, currently estimated at 107.5 kT NH3, also by 2030; 

3)    To reduce other negative environmental impacts of agriculture (specifically, to improve water quality and to improve biodiversity)

What will the elements of the programme be? 

There are two elements to the programme. Firstly, a network of Signpost Farms will act as demonstration farms for the programme and sites for carbon sequestration measurements. These will point the way forward towards climate smart farming, and will be central to the second element, the Signpost Advisory campaign, which will engage with all farmers and support them to move towards more sustainable farming systems.

The Signpost Farms will showcase the science-based technologies that can reduce agricultural emissions, act as ‘hubs for the Signpost Advisory campaign, and create a national network of farms where carbon sequestration in grassland and hedgerows can be examined. The Signpost Advisory campaign will mobilise all advisers (Teagasc, private and industry) to engage with all farmers, using a combination of channels, in climate action.

 

How will the programme be designed? 

Teagasc will design the Signpost programme with four guiding principles in mind: 

•     We want to involve all of the agricultural industry around this initiative in a collaborative approach to bringing about behaviour change; 

•      We want to build on the existing knowledge base and current industry initiatives, while avoiding duplication; 

•     We want to involve farmers, and other stakeholders, in the process – to that end, we will use a living lab co-design approach to ensure that the solutions on climate action are fit for purpose, meet farmers’ needs and are usable; and 

•     We want to ensure that farming systems are future-proofed. Finally, while the need for climate action has been the stimulus for the initiative, the Signpost programme will adopt a holistic approach to sustainability i.e. addressing all four elements of sustainability – economic, social, environment and innovation.

The Teagasc Authority has appointed Dr Tom O’Dwyer as head of the Signpost programme. Tom is currently the head of the Teagasc Dairy Knowledge Transfer Department and he began his career with Teagasc as a REPS Planner for North Tipperary in 1995, before moving to take up a role as a Dairy Specialist in 1998, based in Teagasc Kildalton. In 2007, he was appointed as Advisory Area Manager for Donegal and spent three years managing the Advisory Service in the North West before returning south again to take up his current role as Head of Dairy Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, based in Moorepark.

Speaking following his appointment, he said: “Irish agriculture faces a challenge to reduce agricultural emissions. Teagasc research has identified the technologies which can reduce both GHG and ammonia emissions, but we need to see rapid and widespread adoption of these technologies by farmers. Teagasc, through the new Signpost Programme, will work with farmers to enable them to take climate action on their farms. We will demonstrate the practical steps that each farmer can take to play their part in reducing agricultural emissions, like replacing CAN fertiliser with protected urea, using low emissions slurry spreading equipment, introducing clover into grass swards and planting some trees on the farm.”

Director of Research in Teagasc, professor Frank O’Mara congratulated Dr O’Dwyer on his appointment, saying; “Tom will be working with partners in the programme to establish a network of Signpost Farms, which will act as demonstration farms for the programme and sites for carbon sequestration measurements. These will point the way forward towards climate smart farming, and will be central to the second element, the Signpost Advisory campaign, which will engage with all farmers and support them to move towards more sustainable farming systems.”

Professor Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc, remarked that “With Tom’s appointment, I’m confident that the Signpost programme will lead the way in ensuring that the sector successfully addresses the greatest challenge of our generation.”

For more information, see https://www.teagasc.ie/publications/2020/the-signpost-programme.php