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‘Making the most of our land’

Pan-European research team launches LANDMARK to unearth pathways to sustainable land management

Launch of LANDMARK
The Pan-European research project LANDMARK was launched today, Wednesday, 20 May 2015, in Castledockrell, Co. Wexford, Ireland, by Mr Damien English, T.D., the Irish Minister of State for Skills, Research & Innovation. LANDMARK is a brand new consortium of European researchers and advisors that will seek to unearth practices and policy pathways that make the most of Europe’s rich and diverse heritage of soils, which are key to so many ecosystem services. LANDMARK receives €5 million in European funding from the European Commission as part of its Horizon 2020 Research Programme.

Is Europe running out of land?
At the launch, Teagasc Director Prof Gerry Boyle explained that LANDMARK addresses one of the most urgent challenges for European agriculture: “the number of mouths to feed from each parcel of land continues to rise. But the ecological footprint that we can afford ourselves continues to shrink. Last autumn, the UN revised its projections for population growth: the world’s population is no longer expected to stabilise after 2050, instead it is now expected to continue to grow and approach 11 billion people by 2100. These new figures will certainly fuel the debate whether the world, including Europe, is ‘running out of land’.”

The LANDMARK coordinator, Dr Rachel Creamer from Teagasc added: “Not only do we expect Europe’s agricultural land to provide a nutritious diet for all; we also expect it to provide clean water, to store carbon, recycle our waste and provide a home for biodiversity. These competing demands have now brought soil science sharply back into focus. If we are to make the most of our land, we need to understand the ‘engine room’ of agriculture in all its diversity.”

Towards sustainable practices and policies
LANDMARK aims to do exactly this: it will open up the soils of Europe and assess farm practices and policies that optimise the delivery of food and other ecosystem services. Since both the European food system and ecosystems do not recognise borders, LANDMARK has taken an international approach: it will bring together all the knowledge on land management from European farmers, advisors, scientists and policy makers.

By 2020, LANDMARK will produce three outcomes:
- For farmers: a Soil Navigator that provides advice on the sustainable management of soils on ‘my farm’;
- For legislators: a framework for monitoring of soil quality and soil functions that is applicable across Europe;
- For policy makers: an assessment of policies that can ensure that we ‘make the most of our land’, from both an agronomic and environmental point of view.

Example of innovation
LANDMARK is an early example of the European Innovation Partnership, where scientists, practitioners and policy makers work together to generate new knowledge that can be put to use. At the launch, Minister of State for Skills, Research & Innovation, Damien English, TD, said: “LANDMARK demonstrates Ireland’s international leadership in research and innovation in the area of Sustainable Food Production. I congratulate Teagasc for winning this first, highly competitive call for research. Teagasc has demonstrated that it is possible for Irish research institutions to assume a leadership role in securing funding under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme”.