Teagasc is a major partner in a new €80 million programme to improve the management of agricultural soils across Europe, called the ‘European Joint Programme on Agricultural Soil Management’, or EJP SOIL in short.The European Commission and research organisations in 24 European countries have come together to fund the new 5 year initiative, with support from relevant ministries including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in Ireland.
The overall objective is to provide sustainable agricultural soil management solutions that contribute to key societal challenges including climate change and future food supply.EJP SOIL will develop knowledge, tools and an integrated research community to foster climate-smart sustainable agricultural soil management, and enhance the contribution of agricultural soils to key societal challenges, including climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable agricultural production, ecosystem services provision and restoration and prevention of land and soil degradation.
The implementation of climate smart sustainable soil management differs from region to region, between agricultural practices and obviously between different soil types.As one of its first activities, EJP SOIL will involve European and national stakeholders in identifying knowledge gaps and differences in existing regional and national activities.Stocktaking will establish the baseline of available knowledge and tools in partner countries and help to identify research priorities.This will enable the construction of a roadmap that will function as a strategic research agenda that allows for strategic decision making in science, policy and implementation issues across Europe.
EJP SOIL will seek to raise general public awareness and improve understanding of agricultural soil management.Farmers, landowners, land managers and industry will get access to context-specific guidelines for sustainable soil management practices, technology and tools for carbon level accounting.As part of the roadmap development, stocktaking will look at current models for accounting for soil quality and soil carbon in partner countries.Among other outcomes, this will lead to possibilities for the implementation of agricultural soil management options accounting for the potential effect on soil organic carbon stocks and GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
Welcoming the initiative, Teagasc Director of Research, Professor Frank O’Mara said that “Soils are right at the intersection of food production and climate change.Carbon sequestration has been highlighted in the Green Deal as an opportunity for farmers, but we need solid information on the rates of sequestration in our soils and how we can manage soils to increase that sequestration.We have an active research programme in Teagasc on soil quality and management.For example, recent research by Teagasc researcher Lilian O’Sullivan modelled the carbon stocks in our mineral soils, and the estimate is that they contain 1,800 M tonnes of CO2 equivalent to 1 metre, or over 30 years worth of total GHG emissions from Ireland at current rates.This is a huge store of carbon which must in the first instance be protected, and we look forward with European colleagues to researching how we can increase soil carbon sequestration and thus contribute to climate change mitigation by bringing our farms towards carbon neutrality”.
Like the other 25 research institutes who are partners in EJP SOIL, Teagasc will participate in the transnational research projects, training of PhDs, educational training, dissemination and communication which will be funded by the programme.But Teagasc is also a significant partner in the management of EJP Soil, and is responsible for packaging the information for policy makers across the EU.Dr.David Wall, a soil scientist from Teagasc Environment Research centre, Johnstown Castle, is the overall lead for this activity in EJP SOIL and commented that “it is critical that the new knowledge that will be generated is effectively communicated to all interested parties, including policy makers, so that the right choices can be made regarding the role of soils in food production and climate change.We have very effective linkages between scientists and policy makers here in Ireland and we will bring that expertise to this pan European project”.