The Teagasc Signpost Programme – a campaign to lead climate action by Irish farmers.
Introduction to the challenge addressed
Agriculture is critically important in terms of social, economic and environmental value to Ireland. With food exports of €13 billon p.a., Ireland is a major agricultural producer. However, with a bovine population of 7.3 million, agriculture accounts for up to one third of GHG emissions. Environmental sustainability and addressing climate change are key challenges for the agriculture sector. Farmers are committed to playing their part in addressing climate change and being part of the solution. Against this background, Teagasc and the main stakeholders in Irish agriculture have launched the Signpost programme to lead climate action by Irish farmers.
Description of the Good Practice
The Teagasc Signpost programme is a multi-annual campaign to lead climate action by all Irish farmers. The programme aims to achieve early progress in reducing gaseous emissions from Irish agriculture and also improve water quality, maintain and in some cases improving bio-diversity, reduce costs and create more profitable and sustainable farming enterprises.
There are two elements to the programme; a network of Signpost Farms, including beef farms, which will act as demonstration farms for the programme and sites for carbon sequestration measurements; and the Signpost Advisory campaign, which will engage with all farmers and support them to move towards more sustainable farming systems.
The objectives of the Programme are to;
- To lead and support the transition of Irish farming towards more sustainable farming systems;
- To reduce agricultural emissions, specifically,
- To reduce GHG emissions to the range 17.5 – 19.0 MtCO2 by 2030; and
- To reduce ammonia emissions by 5% below 2005 levels, currently estimated at 107.5 kT NH3, also by 2030;
- To reduce other negative environmental impacts of agriculture, specifically, to improve water quality and to improve biodiversity; and
- To reduce costs and improve margins from farming.
The programme will also measure carbon sequestration on the demonstration farms so as in time this can be taken into account by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the national Greenhouse Gas inventory. Deep soil samples will be taken on the Signpost farms to establish baseline soil carbon levels, with the sampling process repeated in a number of years’ time to monitor any changes. Carbon flux towers will be installed on a number of farms, including beef farms to provide detailed information on carbon exchange at an ecosystem level. This work will enable carbon sequestration to be examined and measured.
A key part of the Signpost programme will be to quantify the baseline soil C values and the changes in that over time. In addition, an estimate of the above ground biomass will be obtained, so that C sequestration in trees and hedgerows can be quantified.
Physical and financial data will be collected on all the farms throughout the year to allow for the preparation of a set of financial statements and a Sustainability Report at the end of each year. In this way, the programme will be able to track progress made in terms of farm performance, farm profitability and environmental indicators including total emissions, emissions per hectare, emissions per kilogram of product etc.
Impact of farm performance
The Signpost programme has the potential to have a very positive impact across all Irish farms, especially in terms of environmental sustainability and carbon sequestration. By establishing and measuring all of the key criteria around climate change at demonstration farm level and through the advisory programme make a real difference in positively moving the sector towards more sustainable farming systems. By analysing and measuring carbon sequestration, the programme can establish real value farming can bring to climate change. The programme also has clear targets in terms of reducing gaseous emissions and improving water quality, maintaining and in some cases improving bio-diversity.
In terms of socio-economic resilience, the Signpost programme will reduce costs and create more profitable and sustainable farming enterprises. In addition, improving production efficiency and quality will be key components of the programme.
On some of the demonstration farms, specific actions will be taken to assist in the sequestration of Carbon such as planting trees and hedgerows, the management of hedgerows (limited cutting), and minimum cultivation methods.
Signpost dairy and beef farmer Tony Mullins has adopted a specific management plan in respect of the trees and hedgerows on his farm, involving side trimming, which delivers many advantages including increased shelter, improved grass growth, increased biodiversity, aesthetically pleasing and increased C sequestration.
Tim Leader has planted 2 ha of forest broadleaf mixed conifer tress on his dairy/beef farm.
Tillage farmer, Don Somers establishes crops via non inversion with a tined cultivator. In addition, he is exploring other establishment systems via direct drilling on reducing carbon emissions and improving soil health.
Signpost beef farmer Ger McSweeney farms near Millstreet in County Cork and he plans to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the farm by improving breeding and fertility, calving all heifers at two years of age, reducing the age at slaughter for all stock, improving grassland management and average daily gain and improving silage quality.
The programme booklet gives details on the programme and a plan on how it will operate. Download the Signpost Programme Brochure (PDF)