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Navigating agricultural sustainability

The new digital sustainability platform, AgNav, developed in partnership by Teagasc, Bord Bia and ICBF aims to create a centralised solution for farm sustainability assessments.

The new sustainability platform, AgNav, will support farmers in improving productivity, ensuring economic viability, and setting new standards for environmental sustainability.Pictured are representatives from Teagasc, Bord Bia and government discussing the platform at the National Ploughing Championships

The Irish Government has set a target for the agriculture sector of a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to 2018. As part of its Climate Action Strategy, Teagasc has set out a roadmap on how this can be achieved without impacting the competitiveness of the agri-food sector. One of the three key pillars of the Teagasc Climate Action Strategy is to develop a new digital sustainability platform to function as a central connected system for researchers, farmers and advisors involved in all aspects of farm sustainability assessment and planning.  

Siobhán Jordan, Head of the Technology Transfer and Commercialisation office for Teagasc, explains: “Whilst the 25% target by 2030 offered certainty as to the destination for farmers, there are many varying options to get there, and many questions as to what the overall target means to each individual farm enterprise – each of which is unique and different. “The Sustainability Digital Platform, now known as AgNav, is helping Irish farmers visualise the potential actions they can adopt on farms with respect to greenhouse gas emissions – helping them to decide where they can make real changes.”

Streamlining data collection

Through years of collaboration, Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Bord Bia have integrated Teagasc life cycle assessment models into the ICBF infrastructure. This allows each organisation to calculate the greenhouse gas intensity, or carbon footprint, of Bord Bia-certified beef and dairy farms. Using this infrastructure, the collaboration has developed the AgNav platform, a digital platform accessible for farmers and advisors that presents the environmental performance of commercial farms. “With farmer consent in place, the tool streamlines the collection of existing data and utilises that data to accurately provide the baseline figure for the farm,” says Siobhán. “That means that every farmer can know the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted from their farms – a first in the world in terms of integrating peer-reviewed research models and data from a range of sources.”  

Farm data residing in existing databases (e.g. ICBF and Bord Bia) is collated to create a snapshot of each unique farming system. Collating existing data for individual farms streamlines the assessment process, which improves the user experience and enables more precise capture and analysis of data, allowing accurate calculation of action. For transparency, farm activity data is presented on the user interface.

A three-part system

The AgNav platform is being developed through a co-design process, where a series of workshops are organised with the development team, farmers and advisors to obtain feedback on accessibility, applicability, interpretability and recommendations. Siobhán adds: “The AgNav platform also provides the user with a live decision support tool that communicates the benefits of best practice adoption on a product, area and total enterprise basis. This tool will be used to inform the creation of a farm specific sustainability plan.”

There are three key elements to the AgNav platform as outlined: Assess, Analysis and Action Planner. Through the ‘Assess’ feature, farm data is collated from the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme survey to build a picture of the operations on the farm, capturing data such as fertiliser use, feed concentrates and manure management. Animal-specific data such as numbers, sales, purchases, and performance is gathered through the ICBF database which is sourced from DAFM’s Animal Identification and Movement system. Life-cycle assessment models developed through many years of Teagasc research use the above collated farm data to calculate greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia emissions from individual farming systems and their associated products. This is used to provide a “starting point” for a given farm.

The second element – ‘Analysis’ – is a live decision support tool. It allows the user to assess the effect of different mitigation strategies at different adoption rates on their overall greenhouse gases and ammonia emissions. Mitigation strategies included in the decision support tool have been identified through Teagasc‘s Marginal Abatement Cost Curve to reduce the environmental burden of agricultural systems while also being economically beneficial/neutral.

Future developments of AgNav will help farmers assess purchasing decisions such as the reduction in fertiliser use or the replacement of straight urea and calcium ammonium nitrate fertiliser with protected urea. Following the identification of the most appropriate actions for their farm, a farmer and/or the advisor will use the ‘Action Planner’ to create a sustainability plan for the farm, which can include targets and timelines for implementation/completion of specific measures. This plan will act as a guide for farmer/advisor engagement and demonstrate each farmer’s commitment to delivering on the action plan.

Expanding the scope

The initial pilot phase of the AgNav platform is currently available for beef and dairy farms that are Bord Bia quality assured and have signed up for the new Teagasc Signpost Advisory Programme. However, explains Research Officer Jonathan Herron, “the scope of AgNav will expand to accommodate all cattle systems as well as other enterprises in Ireland’s agricultural sector, such as sheep, tillage, pigs, forestry and poultry. Future phases of AgNav will also cater for all farmers regardless of their affiliation to AgNav partners”. While the initial phase of the AgNav platform focuses on greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions, future phases will include other environmental indicators such as biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage. Where possible, AgNav will establish data flows with relevant databases to improve assessment quality (i.e. verified data) and user experience. “Once the pilot phase has been completed, the ambition is that AgNav – which is free to use – will expand to all farmers, including those availing of private advisory services,” Siobhán says. “The aim is that, through industry-wide collaboration and data integration, AgNav will become the predominant method of conducting sustainability assessments of farming systems in Ireland.” 


Funded by SFI/DAFM under grant
16/RC/3835 (VistaMilk) and by Teagasc internal funding.


Siobhán Jordan
Head of Technology Transfer and Commercialisation, Teagasc Oak Park.

Jonathan Herron

Research Officer, AGRIP,
Teagasc Moorepark.

[pic credit] Teagasc