The newly-established 'Beacon Farm' research network has begun work establishing a benchmark for carbon sequestration in Northern Ireland.

Government policy and public pressure has seen a recent focus on reducing carbon emissions and achieving net-zero. However, the lack of data on the current status of the industry has made tracking changes and progress almost impossible.

Northern Ireland's new Beacon Farm Network includes 50 beef, dairy and sheep farms which will be used to carry out field research into sustainable livestock farming systems that address the climate change challenge and deliver for people, planet and profit.

Launched by farmer-funded research body AgriSearch, the Beacon Farm Network will benchmark carbon sequestration on-farm, quantify the benefit of ecosystem services delivered by farmers, and encourage the development of innovative, resilient and sustainable farm systems.

Beacon Farm Network

AgriSearch general manager Jason Rankin explained the Beacon Farm Network would act as a platform for several research projects and tie together existing projects supported by AgriSearch.

"First of all we are establishing a benchmark then once we get the benchmark we can speak with the farmers and identify the areas to improve - this might be through the use of clover awards or better slurry management," he said.

"Over 40% of farm's carbon footprint is generated from rumen fermentation and obviously there is very limited amount you can do about this. The next two chunks are from fertiliser and slurry management."

From there, the project will test out various farming methods and technologies expected to increase carbon sequestration or reduce emissions. The data has not yet been drawn together so the projects have not been decided, but examples could be expected include mixed sward grazing, low-emission slurry spreading equipment, the the use of protected urea fertiliser.

Different farms will take part in different project with progress to be compared against the original benchmark figures.

'Demonstrating how farming can be part of the climate solution'

AgriSearch chairman Seamus McCaffrey said it was important for farming to demonstrate how it can be part of the solution to environmental challenges.

"Government carbon reduction targets will require action from all parts of industry and society as a whole, and farmers want to play their part,” McCaffrey said.

“Beef, dairy and sheep farmers are facing the major challenge of continuing to produce high quality and affordable food to a growing population, while minimising their carbon footprint and environmental impact.

“Our aim is to demonstrate to farmers, industry, policymakers and the wider community how farming systems can fit together for people and the planet, while delivering financially sustainable farm businesses."