Thursday, 19 November 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
345. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made on the national soils strategy pursuant to the commitment made in the programme for Government; when the strategy will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37473/20]
The Programme for Government includes a commitment to publish a National Soils Strategy which is subject to ongoing discussion between Departments.
My Department is showing its commitment to soils by introducing a soil sampling programme in 2021, having announced €10m in the budget towards the programme The proposed National Soil Sampling and Analysis Programme will work towards developing a national baseline of soil parameters and focus on soil carbon along with other soil nutrient metrics.
346. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measurement his Department carries out on soil organic carbon in Ireland; the incentives in place for individual farmers to measure soil organic carbon on their own land; the incentives in place for individual farmers to increase the level of soil organic carbon on their land; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37474/20]
My Department considers it critical that we increase our understanding and scientific knowledge of carbon movement in soils i.e. both carbon loss and opportunity for carbon storage. In conjunction with Teagasc, we are increasing our capacity to monitor soil carbon with a view to supporting farmers implement best practices in removing carbon on their farms
The Green Low-carbon Agri-environmental Scheme (GLAS), a co-funded EU/DAFM scheme has two actions in place for individual farmers to increase levels of soil organic carbon. The Catch Crop action is designed to establish a crop that will absorb nutrients and prevent leaching in the autumn/winter period and increase the organic matter and the Minimum Tillage action is designed to improve soil structure and increase soil organic matter.
In addition, the ‘Danú Farming Group’, one of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) projects is a pilot project with focuses on the principles of Biological Farming. This project aims to educate farmers on implementing the principles of Biological Farming and to develop a transition programme based on understanding of soil structure and chemistry with an emphasis on developing soils with a high level of biological activity.
My Department has also recently launched an EIP for rewetting of farmed organic peatlands with a view to supporting farmers in actions to storing carbon in such soils.
My Department is aware of the importance of soil health and soil organic carbon and a proposed soil sampling programme is under development for 2021. The proposed National Soil Sampling and Analysis Programme will develop a national baseline of soil parameters and focus on soil carbon along with other soil nutrient metrics. This proposal is in the early stages of development and more information will be available to the public over the course of 2021.
347. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the analysis his Department has carried out into the link between soil health and flood mitigation; the measures his Department is taking to improve and promote water retention and infiltration in Irish soils; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37475/20]
My Department participated on a Natural Water Retention Measures (NMRM) working group made up of all the relevant public bodies to look at natural water retention measures and their benefits for water quality, climate, biodiversity and flooding. It is looking at the types of measures that are suitable for Ireland and will make a series of recommendations for how they might be implemented. This report is being finalised by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
348. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the incentives his Department provides for riparian planting as recommended in the March 2019 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action; if he will extend existing riparian planting initiatives given the proven environmental benefits of planting the areas beside waterways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37476/20]
My Department’s afforestation scheme provides support to farmers and other landowners to establish new native woodland which can deliver a range of environmental benefits including the protection and enhancement of water quality and aquatic ecosystems. Up to €6,220 is available under this scheme to cover the cost of establishment; in addition, the Department will pay premiums of up to €680 each year for 15 years.
When these forests are well-sited, designed and managed, they can deliver a range of ‘ecosystem services’ such as the prevention of sediment and nutrient run-off, the protection of banks from erosion, ‘food drop’ of insects and leaf litter into the aquatic ecosystem, the shading and cooling of water, the overall restoration of riparian habitats, and helping floodwater control. Ireland’s approach to using forests to improve water quality is set out in the “Forests & Water Achieving Objectives under Ireland’s River Basin Management Plan-2018-2021”. Through combining tree planting with their other farming activities, farmers can actively create buffer zones to protect water streams from farm pollutants and riparian erosion.
The optimum use of native woodland establishment to protect water quality is described in my Department’s publication ‘Woodland for Water: Creating new native woodlands to protect and enhance Ireland’s waters’. This document promotes the planting of Native woodland along side a permanent undisturbed water setback, 10-25 metres in width uncrossed by new drains & largely unplanted. Planting within the setback planting can comprise of single or small groups of trees of suitable native riparian species, strategically planted & maintained to deliver the ecosystem services described above.
It is worth noting that the total area of native woodlands planted so far in 2020 is the highest on record and is equal to the annual target of 450ha set at the beginning of the Forestry Programme 2014 -2020. In terms of introducing new schemes to further promote native woodland planting and riparian planting in particular, this will be included in the public consultation process that will be carried out for the new Forest Strategy and accompanying Forestry Programme.
349. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the training his Department provides on soil health training for farmers and land managers in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37477/20]
My Department recognises that within the EU Green Deal, the Farm to Fork and EU Biodiversity strategies there is a very strong focus on soils, in particular healthy soils that display high levels of biological activity in order to ensure healthy and secure food production.
In addition, my Department is showing its commitment to soils by introducing a soil sampling programme in 2021. The proposed National Soil Sampling and Analysis Programme will develop a national baseline of soil parameters and focus on soil carbon along with other soil nutrient metrics.
The Department, through its agency Teagasc, provides ongoing research and advisory support to farmers in relation to training on soil health.
350. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the long-term monitoring his Department carries out regarding changes to soil health in Ireland over time as recommended by Teagasc; the analysis his Department has carried out in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37478/20]
Teagasc and research partners UCD, University of Limerick and Sligo IT completed a Research Stimulus project “SQUARE” in 2018 funded by my Department.
In the SQUARE project, a baseline survey of soil health status was taken for a range of grassland and arable soils across Ireland (total: 108 field sites). This research identified key soil indicators related to the five soil functions; (1) primary production, (2) Nutrient cycling, (3) Water regulation and purification, (4) Climate regulation and carbon sequestration and (5) habitat for biodiversity. These key soil indicators can be used to assess and monitor different aspects of soil health over time. This research also investigated the interactions between soil type, climatic region and management and their effect on these key indicators of soil health.
Overall, while the SQUARE project results indicate that the soil health status of Irish soils is relatively good, it identified that one of the main threats to soil health in Ireland was the risk of soil compaction.
351. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the analysis his Department has carried with regard to regenerative agriculture techniques and their potential in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37479/20]
I am aware that there has been an increased interest in regenerative farming in recent years and the movement is growing internationally.
In 2018, the National Organic Training Skillnet organized the first Biological Farming conference in Ireland. Ireland’s second annual Biological Farming Conference ‘BioFarm’ was held in November 2019. In recent weeks, the third Bio-farm event was addressed by my colleague Minister Hackett.
The event featured speakers on many aspects of innovative agriculture that mitigate climate change, regenerate soil health and carbon cycles, empower farmers and create food security. The motivation for the conference came from the increase in interest and knowledge exchange on biological/regenerative farming practices.
Under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) projects, funded and supported by my Department, we are in the process of researching holistic farming approaches, such as through the Danú Farming Group EIP. The Danú Farming Group aims to educate farmers on biological farming by developing a conventional to biological farming transition programme. The project seeks to achieve over its lifetime of 5+ years to develop the transition programmes on the basis of field trial findings that are practical, affordable and capable of implementation by any interested farmer.