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Optimising carbon storage of peat key focus of workshop

Optimising carbon storage of peat key focus of workshop

Sixty participants attended the first day of the ‘Grassland Peat Agriculture Workshop’, which was hosted by the new Teagasc Climate Centre and the ReWet (Teagasc and University of Galway) project at Gurteen College in Tipperary today, Wednesday, May 10th.

The workshop is bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds including: regulation; policy; academia; and project managers working in local farming communities. The workshop will conclude tomorrow at a demonstration farm hosted by FarmCarbon EIP in Offaly.

The land-use sector in Ireland is a major source of emissions that are projected to rise to 11.1 M T CO2 eq by 2030. Grasslands on peat soils are estimated to cover 339,000ha and are estimated to account for emissions of up to 9 M T CO2 eq per year. This estimate is highly uncertain and relies upon a number of assumptions regarding the areal extent, nutrient status, drainage status and the emission factor for agricultural peat soils. Each of these assumptions needs to be urgently refined to improve the emissions estimates and identify what farmers can do to reduce these emissions.  

Dr. Pat Tuohy, Teagasc, explained that the management of grassland peat soils at farm scale requires a range of measures to ensure appropriate land uses are promoted and carbon storage is optimised. However, given that water table depth remains the critical parameter, which dictates the total emissions, there remains a lack of clarity around peatland hydrology at farm scale and its implications for future management.

Dr. Florence Renou-Wilson from UCD presented the latest estimates of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from Irish managed peatlands, highlighting the large contribution of grassland over peat and the importance of considering not only nutrient status of the peat, drainage depth but also grassland management intensity.

Peatland must be wet to avoid degradation and reduce GHG emissions. Political decisions have been taken in Denmark to rewet 58% (100,000ha) of the agricultural peatland by 2030. Poul Erik Lærke from Aarhus University, presented how their mitigation potential is assessed and its scientific evidence. A similar target, 80,000ha with reduced management intensity, is in the 2022 Irish Climate Action Plan.

Professor Chris Evans from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology provided an overview of research on lowland agricultural peatlands in the UK, which suggests that every 10cm of drainage increases GHG emissions by around 5t of CO2 per hectare per year, and that agricultural peatlands as a whole are responsible for 2% of the UK’s entire GHG emissions. He described initial results of a number of field trials aiming to reduce emissions from peatlands under agriculture, and assessed the potential for novel management of re-wetted peatlands for carbon capture and storage, in support of the UK’s commitment to Net Zero GHG emissions.

Professor Owen Fenton, Teagasc, said that on-going and future collaborative research projects that focus on improving the science, mapping and monitoring of Grassland Peat Agriculture within the Teagasc Climate Research Centre will help Ireland meet its Climate targets and improve farming incomes through agri-environmental schemes and future carbon farming payments.

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