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Signpost Village Moorepark21

At the recent Moorepark ’21 Open Day the Signpost Village focussed on environmental sustainability in Irish dairy farming.  Here we present the main boards from the village and summarise the papers. Click on the board title below to view

The Signpost programme overview

  • The Signpost programme will provide leadership to farmers as we move towards more sustainable farming systems.
  • Ambitious targets have been set for dairy farmers to reduce gaseous emissions through increased efficiencies in areas including fertiliser use, soil fertility, pasture utilisation, slurry management, replacement rate, protein content of concentrate feeds as well as biodiversity and profitability.


Key mitigation actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on dairy farms 

Greenhouse gas emissions from dairy production in Ireland

  • A new national average greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of 0.99 kg CO2-eq per kg fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM) has been calculated by a recently updated Teagasc life cycle assessment model.
  • Improving the efficiency of current dairy systems and the adoption low emission technologies can reduce the GHG intensity to 0.73 kg CO2-eq per kg FPCM.
  • Further development and implementation of low emission technologies is necessary to reduce the GHG intensity and total GHG emissions of dairy systems.

Teagasc Sustainability Report 2019

  • Gross margin and income returns were 1.4–5 times higher on dairy farms versus nondairy farms.
  • Emissions per hectare of greenhouse gas (GHG), ammonia (NH3) and N balances were between 2–6 times higher on dairy farms.
  • Emissions intensity of milk production declined between 2012–2019.

Reducing ammonia emissions: Switch to protected urea and low emission slurry spreading (LESS)

  • Ammonia emissions reduce the nitrogen value of fertiliser and slurry.
  • Switch from urea to protected urea and splash-plate to low emission slurry spreading (LESS).

Protected Urea — maintaining yield with lower emissions 

  • Extensive Irish trials show that protected urea delivers on yield.
  • Irish trials show protected urea giving a 71% reduction in nitrous oxide loss compared to CAN and a 79% reduction in ammonia loss compared to urea.
  • Use protected urea in the straight nitrogen (N) or N+S slots in your fertiliser programme.

Increasing biodiversity on intensive farms

  • Wildlife measures designed and targeted for intensive dairy systems can play an important role in halting the decline of biodiversity and achieving the goals of sustainable agriculture.
  • The quality of existing farmland habitats should be maintained or enhanced, before new biodiversity measures are established.
  • New biodiversity measures should not replace existing habitats.

The greenhouse gas marginal abatement cost curve (GHG MACC)

  • The Teagasc greenhouse gas (GHG) marginal abatement cost curve (MACC) for Irish Agriculture shows the realistic potential for reducing agriculture’s GHG emissions using a range of actions (technologies and management strategies) on farm.
  • The GHG MACC indicates the size of the contribution each action can deliver and the cost that would be associated with applying or implementing those actions.
  • Many of the actions identified in the GHG MACC have a low or negative cost and are, therefore, priorities for implementation.
  • The GHG MACC provides important guidance to policy makers on the potential policies and regulation required to support the reduction of GHG emissions.

New research areas — environment


  • New research is focusing on whether practices such as liming or phosphorus fertilisation can reduce emissions through effects on the soil microbiome, low emission compound fertilisers, manure acidification/amendments.

Does nitrates derogation farming impact water quality?

  • Fertiliser nitrogen (N) readily converts to a soluble form (nitrate) that does not bind to soil and is easily leached to ground water.
  • Weather and soil type have a significant influence on nitrate losses to water and can override high stocking rates and N application on water quality.
  • While the most intensive dairying areas in the country correspond with the rivers and estuaries showing higher nitrate concentrations, mitigating actions must consider all influencing factors.

ASSAP — Supporting farmers to minimise nitrate losses

  • Ireland has been set a target by the E.U. Water Framework Directive (WFD) of achieving ‘Good Status’ for all waters.
  • Recent EPA water quality reports highlight deteriorating water quality due to increasing nutrient levels, including nitrate, in waters.
  • The Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP) service is available in 190 Priority Areas for Action (PAA’s) and provides advice and mitigation actions to farmers to help minimise nutrient losses to waters.

Methane measurement and accuracy

  • Ruminants, unlike monogastrics, can digest grass with methane being a by-product of digestion.
  • Measurement of methane has traditionally been dif#cult in pasture-based systems.
  • New outdoor GreenFeed technologies allow methane to be measured with strong repeatability and accuracy in a grazing system.

Forestry — farm planning and integrating forestry

  • When deciding to plant, setting clear objectives and timely planning are essential.
  • A rang of suitable DAFM planting categories can be considered to meet financial, social and environmental enhancement objectives.
  • Comprehensive decision supports are available from Teagasc.

For further details on the papers check out Moorepark Open Day Booklet 2021