Sustainable Agriculture – A Big Focus on Egerton Farm

ARCZero is a European innovation partnership project led by farmers and funded by DAERA and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development led by Professor John Gilliland of Devenish does just that, creating a strong baseline for both emissions and carbon stocks on its seven member farms.

John Egerton is one of seven farmers involved in the ARCZero project and those in attendance heard about the extensive work done by the Egertons to mitigate extreme fertilizer price spikes through the targeted application of slurry using LESS methods, using manure insects, increased accuracy of inorganic nitrogen application using tractor-mounted GPS, fertilizer application in divisions, and inclusion of white clover in no-till pastures, resulting in a 20% reduction in the amount of inorganic fertilizer seeded on the Egerton farm. Establishing clover in existing perennial ryegrass pasture lawns acts as a longer term solution to reducing inorganic fertilizer requirements, which will benefit Egerton Farm in the future, seeing further decreases in the amount of inorganic nitrogen applied.

An AgreCalc agricultural carbon benchmark was carried out for Egerton’s farm and Michaela Tener and Phelim Connolly explained the process and results to those of the day. While carbon emissions produced on the farm were below average, areas for possible mitigation were highlighted with nutrient management, purchased feeds and fertilizers identified as target areas for further emissions mitigation.

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John Egerton, John Gilliland, Rachel Cassidy and William Egerton speaking one of the groups on the recent ARCZero Farm Walk

Patrick Casement, VP and farmer participating in the ARCZero project, briefed participants on measuring soil carbon by performing 2 GPS soil scans at 10cm and 30cm depth, which revealed that the Egerton farm contains more than 8,600 tonnes of carbon stored in the top 30 centimeters of the ground. i.e. 33,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. AFBI’s Alex Higgins briefed visitors on methods for measuring carbon stored in above-ground vegetation, such as trees and hedges, which can be measured using LiDAR technology, which revealed that the Egerton farm stores nearly 400 tons of carbon in trees and hedgerows.

Attendees also heard about the Egerton trial of the Multispecies Sward (MSS), one of the most westerly MSS fields tested in Northern Ireland. The late spring weather posed serious challenges to grass management, but William Egerton pointed out that MSS grass had produced the highest dry matter yield on the farm this year of over 7t /DM/ha compared to 6 t/DM/ha cultivated by the traditional perennial plant. Ryegrass pastures. This fact is even more impressive considering that the MSS turf only received a slurry application in the spring, reflecting the benefits of MSS when reducing fertilizer inputs. Professor John Gilliland of Devenish Nutrition also highlighted the benefits of MSS to soil health by boosting soil carbon due to increased root structure, resulting in a 300% increase in earthworm populations, as well as the benefits for animal health thanks to the anthelmintic properties of MSS.

Rachel Cassidy of the AFBI concluded the event by updating participants on future uses of LiDAR technology to develop runoff hazard maps – a key part of the soil nutrient health program currently being rolled out in Northern Ireland. Runoff hazard maps can be used to inform on-farm decision making when spreading organic manure in areas where surface water runoff from land could lead to water pollution.

More farm walks are planned with the next at Hugh Harbison’s farm, Aghadowey, on September 1. Full details will be posted on the ARCZero website and social media pages in the coming weeks.

About Keneth T. Graves

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