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Taking centre stage

Teagasc’s Climate Centre takes an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together staff from across the organisation to work on some of the biggest climate and biodiversity challenges facing us. Research Officers Lorraine Balaine (REDP), Rachael Murphy (CELUP) and Paul Smith (AGRIP) and Technologist Simon Leach (CELUP) tell us more about the crucial research happening within the centre.


Researchers at Teagasc’s Climate Centre are driving some of the organisation’s most urgent work
to meet challenges around climate change and biodiversity (L-R: Paul Smith, Simon Leach, Rachael Murphy and Lorraine Balaine)

Can you explain your role within the Teagasc Climate Centre?

Lorraine: As an agri-environmental economist, my work focuses on understanding and informing farmers’ technology adoption decisions, with a specific focus on GHG mitigation. Using Teagasc NFS data helps identify farm-level solutions that can reconcile the three sustainability dimensions (economic, environmental and social) towards achieving carbon reduction targets. I work in multi-disciplinary teams within and outside of Teagasc proposing policy recommendations for enhanced agricultural sustainability.

Rachael: I am a Research Officer working on measuring carbon emissions, working on the National Agricultural Soil Carbon Observatory (NASCO) data. NASCO is a Climate Centre infrastructure consisting of 28 flux towers that measure GHGs such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) on different land-uses, soil types and managements.

Paul: I’m a Research Officer based in Teagasc Grange, focused on improving the sustainability of beef cattle production. Within the Climate Centre, my main aim is to develop strategies for reducing the finishing age of Irish beef cattle, to decrease the quantity of GHG emissions emitted over an animal’s lifetime.

Simon: My main role in the climate centre is contributing to the design, implementation and management of a new biodiversity survey within the National Farm Survey (NFS) and the Small Farm Survey (SFS). I work with colleagues in both the Environment Research Centre in Johnstown Castle and REDP in Athenry. I also provide biodiversity support to research staff with a focus on the use of Geographic Information and associated software systems (GIS). 

What are your specific priorities and objectives within the Climate Centre?

Simon: There is currently no regular, systematic, repeatable and statistically representative monitoring of farmland biodiversity in the wider countryside.  Implementing a biodiversity indicator within the NFS aims to address this gap. The main objectives are to create an indicator of habitat quantity (as a proxy for biodiversity) and deliver a field survey to assess variation in the quality of these habitat features in our farmland landscapes.

Paul: Presently, the average finishing age of prime beef cattle on commercial Irish farms is 25.6 months, substantially older than at research level and on top-performing commercial farms. Finishing age is influenced by animal growth rates; increasing overall lifetime live weight gain of the national beef herd is a central priority to achieve the 2030 ambition to reduce average finishing age to 22-23 months.

Lorraine: We need to increase farmer buy-in to encourage the widespread uptake of identified mitigation measures; reaching our climate targets depends on it. This requires a deeper understanding of constraints to adoption from a farmer perspective so that more support systems are developed to accompany farmers in the sustainability transition. We also need to ensure the continued economic and technical feasibility of implementing proposed solutions at the farm level and foster adaptation to future challenges. 

Rachael: A key priority within the Climate Centre is to publish Irish-specific soil carbon sequestration and emission factors by 2027. An objective of my research programme is to utilise the NASCO carbon flux data to generate Irish-specific - or Tier 2 - emission factors for soil carbon emissions from agricultural soils.

How does your research achieve these objectives?

Rachael: We will measure high-frequency CO2 and non-CO2 GHGs over large spatial domains (up to 1 km2) from different agricultural managements (dairy, beef, sheep, arable, multi-species swards and rye-grass clover swards) and soil types (mineral, peat and organo-mineral), as well as collecting management data. Both flux and management data will be incorporated into a process-based model to provide Tier 2 and Tier 3 (modelled) emission factors.

Lorraine: My research explores farmers’ profiles, decisions and sustainability performance to help propose tailored solutions for different production systems. I use and produce quantitative, economic and environmental metrics that can be easily communicated to farmers, advisors, industry stakeholders and policymakers. I also write perspective and methodological articles that reflect upon agri-environmental policy, multi-disciplinary research needs and the future of production systems within and outside of Ireland. 

Simon: We will produce a habitat quantity index employing nationally available spatial datasets, the periodic update of which will offer opportunities to assess change over time. We plan to complement this metric with a targeted, repeatable field survey of habitat quality. Delivering these biodiversity outputs for all farms within the NFS/SFS will facilitate the combined analysis of habitat data with other environmental, financial and socio-economic variables collected within the nationally representative framework of the NFS. 

Paul: A key focus of this research programme is to identify and quantify the main factors negatively influencing the lifetime live weight gain and subsequent finishing age of cattle on commercial beef farms. The acquisition of this data will play a key role in developing both policy and farm level interventions focused on reducing the national finishing age.

What are the key techniques and tools you use to achieve this work?

Lorraine: I apply advanced econometric methods to large datasets such as the Teagasc NFS. Econometrics is the application of statistical methods to economic theory, which can help us understand the allocation of farm and farmers’ resources. With the help of others in the Climate Centre, I plan to combine these methods with qualitative work and in-depth case study analysis of farm environmental performance. This will help better inform technology adoption decisions that are adapted to specific farming conditions, as well as the development of successful agri-environmental policies.

Paul: A dual-focused approach will be undertaken to develop an understanding of the factors influencing the finishing age of Irish beef cattle. Initially, there will be a focus on the collation and amalgamation of live weight data to determine the key stages across the production cycle whereby growth targets are not being achieved nationally. Following this, there will be a more comprehensive focus on obtaining data from commercial beef farms to investigate the effects of nutrition, animal health and on-farm environment on finishing age.

Rachael: The NASCO flux tower network represents the densest network of flux towers globally, making Ireland a global leader in monitoring GHG emissions from agricultural soils. Some of the NASCO sites are co-located with additional GHG-measuring infrastructure such as greenfeeds for measuring enteric CH4, and static and automated chambers for measuring soil emissions of CO2, N2O and CH4.

Simon: We use a range of geospatial tools and techniques, spatial data sources and associated remote sensing technologies in biodiversity-related research. The National Land Cover Map, released by Tailte Éireann in March 2023, represents a step change in the level of digital mapping captured nationally for the agricultural landscape in Ireland. We plan to make extensive use of this innovative and novel resource, while also investigating the degree to which this and other digital data products can meet wider objectives around biodiversity monitoring.

Can you explain why your work is important in the context of meeting climate and biodiversity challenges?

Simon: We are in a widely acknowledged biodiversity crisis, failing to achieve a series of targets over the last 10-20 years. If we are to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, it is important that we have mechanisms and methodologies in place to effectively monitor biodiversity and measure the impact of the investments that are made and the actions that are implemented to meet these challenges.

Lorraine: We need to better unite more science, policy and the farming community. It is only by working together that we can tackle the climate and biodiversity challenges ahead of us. Farmers play a key role in our food systems; thus, my research is centred around their views and behaviours, with the objective of facilitating progress in building climate-resilient and sustainable production systems.

Rachael: Ireland has an emission reduction target of 51% by 2030, of which approximately 5% can be attributed to the inclusion of carbon sinks from Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (known as LULUCF). By measuring CO2 fluxes from Irish agricultural soils, we can better determine the carbon sequestration potential of different land-uses managed for agriculture and utilise these systems to help achieve our emission reduction target. 

Paul: Reducing the finishing age of prime beef cattle has been identified as a top GHG mitigation priority for the agricultural sector. Reducing the finishing age of beef cattle also has an economic advantage by reducing daily costs associated with animal production. Therefore, the ongoing work on reducing finishing age has the potential to both increase the economic sustainability of beef cattle production and deliver GHG mitigation savings of 0.57-0.82 MT CO2eq for the sector.

Are there any trends coming up that will affect your work? How are you anticipating this?

Paul: Since 2018, the average finishing age of steers, bulls and heifers has decreased by 34, 10 and 12 days respectively, with minimal negative effects to average carcass weight. The upcoming inclusion of “finishing age” as a trait in the national cattle breeding indices has the potential to further advance the annual decline in finishing age.

Rachael: We aim to expand the applications of the NASCO flux data by working with Terrain-AI, an SFI and Microsoft-funded project led by Maynooth University, on using the flux towers as ground truths - actual on-ground locations relative to GPS coordinates - for earth observations of gross primary productivity (GPP). We also aim to use the flux data to constrain model outputs of CO2 under different managements and climate scenarios.

Simon: GIS and related spatial data technologies are developing rapidly. We aim to make best use of new technical developments and advances where possible. We will look closely at field data collection technologies over the next 12-24 months as our field survey campaign will generate a large volume of information and will also be important to build in the ability to repeat the surveys in the future to assess change. Mobile GIS applications and tools will likely play a key role in managing these processes.  

Lorraine: Methods in the field of machine learning are improving exponentially. With the current trend of collecting and accessing more and more data on farms, I believe that the use of these powerful methods is the future in my field. There is a very steep learning curve to use them and unlock their potential, but I am hoping to start catching up within the next two to three years. 

What are the Climate Centre’s values? What are the principles you work to that you think make your team successful?

Rachael: The Climate Centre values interdisciplinary research, knowledge transfer and high-quality data outputs that can enable policymakers to make science-based decisions on agriculture’s role in mitigating climate change.

Lorraine: The Climate Centre gathers a group of people who are motivated and committed to the transition towards more sustainable agricultural production. Space to share ideas and voice concerns has made the experience very enjoyable for me so far. The Centre is still relatively new, but we are building close links that will support Teagasc in its missions going forward. 

What are you proudest of as a member of the Climate Centre? Is there an achievement you would like to highlight?


I think it’s a privilege to be part of this group and to participate in something that truly matters for the future of our society.

Simon: It’s great to be part of a collaborative, multi-disciplinary group, working to develop innovative solutions to address climate and biodiversity challenges.

Rachael: I am proud to be a part of an institution that can instigate real change at national level regarding how we address climate change within agriculture.

Paul: It is a privilege to be a member of a multi-disciplinary group focused on increasing the sustainability of Irish agriculture.

  1. 4%

      In 2022, the agricultural sector was directly responsible for 38.4% of national GHG emissions.



Further Information:

Signpost Series Webinar Video


[photo credit] Photography: Karl McDonough