Johnstown Castle is Ireland’s leading research centre for soils and the rural environment. The centre conducts research on soils; nutrient efficiency; recovery and losses; air and water quality; the agricultural environment and agro-ecology. The research results generated are used widely by advisors, farmers, scientists and policy makers.

Recent Submissions

  • Enhancing the diversity of breeding invertebrates within field margins of intensively managed grassland: Effects of alternative management practices

    Fritch, Rochelle A.; Sheridan, Helen; Finn, John A.; McCormack, Stephen; Ó hUallacháin, Daire; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; RSF 06 382 (Wiley, 2017-10-19)
    Severe declines in biodiversity have been well documented for many taxonomic groups due to intensification of agricultural practices. Establishment and appropriate management of arable field margins can improve the diversity and abundance of invertebrate groups; however, there is much less research on field margins within grassland systems. Three grassland field margin treatments (fencing off the existing vegetation “fenced”; fencing with rotavation and natural regeneration “rotavated” and; fencing with rotavation and seeding “seeded”) were compared to a grazed control in the adjacent intensively managed pasture. Invertebrates were sampled using emergence traps to investigate species breeding and overwintering within the margins. Using a manipulation experiment, we tested whether the removal of grazing pressure and nutrient inputs would increase the abundance and richness of breeding invertebrates within grassland field margins. We also tested whether field margin establishment treatments, with their different vegetation communities, would change the abundance and richness of breeding invertebrates in the field margins. Exclusion of grazing and nutrient inputs led to increased abundance and richness in nearly all invertebrate groups that we sampled. However, there were more complex effects of field margin establishment treatment on the abundance and richness of invertebrate taxa. Each of the three establishment treatments supported a distinct invertebrate community. The removal of grazing from grassland field margins provided a greater range of overwintering/ breeding habitat for invertebrates. We demonstrate the capacity of field margin establishment to increase the abundance and richness in nearly all invertebrate groups in study plots that were located on previously more depauperate areas of intensively managed grassland. These results from grassland field margins provide evidence to support practical actions that can inform Greening (Pillar 1) and agri-environment measures (Pillar 2) of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Before implementing specific management regimes, the conservation aims of agri-environment measures should be clarified by defining the target species or taxonomic groups.
  • A review of water quality policies in relation to public good benefits and community engagement in rural Ireland

    Daly, Karen; Breuil, Marion; Buckley, Cathal; O’ Donoghue, Cathal; Ryan, Mary; Seale, Catherine (Sciendo, 2017-04-06)
    This paper examines current recreational water use in the rural landscape in Ireland and reviews current EU policies and national regulations aimed at protecting water quality and the wider environment under agri-environmental schemes. Specifically, we review policy instruments that protect water for recreational use, their impacts and the challenges they pose for rural development against current requirements to increase public awareness and participation. In Ireland, there is limited experience in public participation in water quality protection and restoration and we highlight how this can be addressed by focussing on the specific contribution of water quality in rural areas in relation to the provision of recreational ecosystem services. These services provide the infrastructure for much of Ireland’s rural tourism sector. In this context, emerging participatory approaches to policy implementation are also assessed as national and local government prioritise community engagement for the second cycle under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).
  • Soil multifunctionality: Synergies and trade‐offs across European climatic zones and land uses

    Zwetsloot, Marie J.; Leeuwen, Jeroen; Hemerik, Lia; Martens, Henk; Simó Josa, Iolanda; Broek, Marijn; Debeljak, Marko; Rutgers, Michiel; Sandén, Taru; Wall, David P.; et al. (Wiley, 2020-10-08)
    With increasing societal demands for food security and environmental sustainability on land, the question arises: to what extent do synergies and trade-offs exist between soil functions and how can they be measured across Europe? To address this challenge, we followed the functional land management approach and assessed five soil functions: primary productivity, water regulation and purification, climate regulation, soil biodiversity and nutrient cycling. Soil, management and climate data were collected from 94 sites covering 13 countries, five climatic zones and two land-use types (arable and grassland). This dataset was analysed using the Soil Navigator, a multicriteria decision support system developed to assess the supply of the five soil functions simultaneously. Most sites scored high for two to three soil functions, demonstrating that managing for multifunctionality in soil is possible but that local constraints and trade-offs do exist. Nutrient cycling, biodiversity and climate regulation were less frequently delivered at high capacity than the other two soil functions. Using correlation and co-occurrence analyses, we also found that synergies and trade-offs between soil functions vary among climatic zones and land-use types. This study provides a new framework for monitoring soil quality at the European scale where both the supply of soil functions and their interactions are considered.
  • Barriers and opportunities of soil knowledge to address soil challenges: Stakeholders’ perspectives across Europe

    Vanino, Silvia; Pirelli, Tiziana; Di Bene, Claudia; Bøe, Frederik; Castanheira, Nádia; Chenu, Claire; Cornu, Sophie; Feiza, Virginijus; Fornara, Dario; Heller, Olivier; et al. (Elsevier, 2023-01)
    Climate-smart sustainable management of agricultural soil is critical to improve soil health, enhance food and water security, contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity preservation, and improve human health and wellbeing. The European Joint Programme for Soil (EJP SOIL) started in 2020 with the aim to significantly improve soil management knowledge and create a sustainable and integrated European soil research system. EJP SOIL involves more than 350 scientists across 24 Countries and has been addressing multiple aspects associated with soil management across different European agroecosystems. This study summarizes the key findings of stakeholder consultations conducted at the national level across 20 countries with the aim to identify important barriers and challenges currently affecting soil knowledge but also assess opportunities to overcome these obstacles. Our findings demonstrate that there is significant room for improvement in terms of knowledge production, dissemination and adoption. Among the most important barriers identified by consulted stakeholders are technical, political, social and economic obstacles, which strongly limit the development and full exploitation of the outcomes of soil research. The main soil challenge across consulted member states remains to improve soil organic matter and peat soil conservation while soil water storage capacity is a key challenge in Southern Europe. Findings from this study clearly suggest that going forward climate-smart sustainable soil management will benefit from (1) increases in research funding, (2) the maintenance and valorisation of long-term (field) experiments, (3) the creation of knowledge sharing networks and interlinked national and European infrastructures, and (4) the development of regionally-tailored soil management strategies. All the above-mentioned interventions can contribute to the creation of healthy, resilient and sustainable soil ecosystems across Europe.
  • Long-term elevation of temperature affects organic N turnover and associated N2O emissions in a permanent grassland soil

    Jansen-Willems, Anne B.; Lanigan, Gary J.; Clough, Timothy J.; Andresen, Louise C.; Müller, Christoph; Walsh fellowship programme; LOEWE excellence programme FACE2FACE, AGRI-I; German Science foundation; 10/SC/716; DFG 2337 (Copernicus GmbH, 2016-11-30)
    Over the last century an increase in mean soil surface temperature has been observed, and it is predicted to increase further in the future. In order to evaluate the legacy effects of increased temperature on both nitrogen (N) transformation rates in the soil and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, an incubation experiment and modelling approaches were combined. Based on previous observations that gross N transformations in soils are affected by long-term elevated-temperature treatments we hypothesized that any associated effects on gaseous N emissions (e.g. N2O) can be confirmed by a change in the relative emission rates from various pathways. Soils were taken from a long-term in situ warming experiment on temperate permanent grassland. In this experiment the soil temperature was elevated by 0 (control), 1, 2 or 3 °C (four replicates per treatment) using IR (infrared) lamps over a period of 6 years. The soil was subsequently incubated under common conditions (20 °C and 50 % humidity) and labelled as NO315NH4 Gly, 15NO3NH4 Gly or NO3NH4 15N-Gly. Soil extractions and N2O emissions were analysed using a 15N tracing model and source-partitioning model. Both total inorganic N (NO3− + NH4+) and NO3− contents were higher in soil subjected to the +2 and +3 °C temperature elevations (pre- and post-incubation). Analyses of N transformations using a 15N tracing model showed that, following incubation, gross organic (but not inorganic) N transformation rates decreased in response to the prior soil warming treatment. This was also reflected in reduced N2O emissions associated with organic N oxidation and denitrification. Furthermore, a newly developed source-partitioning model showed the importance of oxidation of organic N as a source of N2O. In conclusion, long-term soil warming can cause a legacy effect which diminishes organic N turnover and the release of N2O from organic N and denitrification.
  • The effect of machine traffic zones associated with field headlands on soil structure in a survey of 41 tilled fields in a temperate maritime climate

    Ward, Mark; McDonnell, Kevin; Metzger, Konrad; Forristal, Patrick Dermot; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship (Elsevier, 2021-06)
    Machinery traffic imposes a negative effect on soil structure, leading to soil compaction. Studies to date have primarily focused on the influence of applied wheel loads on soil structure. Few studies have assessed the impact of commercial farm operations on soil structure and crop performance, particularly on field headlands in a temperate maritime climate such as Ireland. A survey was conducted on 41 conventionally managed field sites to investigate the effect of field position (field edge, turning, transition and in-field zones) in relation to machinery operations on soil structure. Soil texture classes ranged from sandy loam to clay loam. All sites used plough-based crop establishment. Soil structural condition was assessed visually using the visual evaluation of soil structure method (VESS) for the topsoil (0−250 mm), and Double Spade below plough depth (250−400 mm). Quantitative soil measurements such as shear strength, bulk density and porosity using soil cores post-harvest, and soil cone penetration resistance were taken at two time points in the crop growth cycle. For most measurements of soil structure, the in-field zone of least machinery traffic produced the best scores (Sq 2.81 & DS 2.48), and the turning zone returned the poorest scores in the 0−250 mm soil layer (Sq 3.31 & DS 2.91). The strongest quantitative scores for the in-field and turning zones, respectively, were for trowel penetration resistance in the upper (2.49 & 3.20) and lower (3.41 & 4.05) soil depth layers and for shear vane (38.17 & 53.59 kPa) for the same zones. The visual assessments and some of the quantitative measurements (0−250 mm soil layer) followed the zone order trend of: turning, field edge, transition and in-field, for increasing machinery traffic. The results show that the visual soil indicators used in this study are more sensitive than quantitative soil measurements such as soil bulk density (ρb) or porosity (TP and MP) at detecting soil structural differences between zones, particularly below plough depth (>250 mm soil depth).
  • Field scale estimates of soil carbon stocks on ten heavy textured farms across Ireland

    Tuohy, P.; O'Sullivan, L.; Fenton, O. (Elsevier, 2021-03)
    The world's soils store vast amounts (≈2,500 GT) of Carbon which acts as a vital sink to counterbalance the effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. There have been fruitful efforts to quantify soil Carbon stocks at national scales, which are required for policy level decisions but lack the high resolution required to support farm specific decisions. It is hypothesised that farm scale evaluations of soils can provide insight that is masked in national scale studies and can allow for spatially explicit management approaches to optimise soil Carbon storage and sequestration, such that it can be prioritized within profitable production systems. The objective of the present study was to estimate Carbon stocks on a range of heavy textured soils at field and farm scale and to quantify Carbon storage relative to national scale estimates. Ten grassland dairy farms (mean area of 52.2 Ha) were surveyed, sampled and classified to determine soil types and quantify soil Carbon stores. The level of Carbon present (mean: 346.0 T/Ha) at these sites was greater than previous averages on such soils quantified at national scale (by a factor of 1.1–3.9 depending on soil type). Furthermore, if Carbon saturation potential was realised, the amount of Carbon stored could be increased by an average of 792.1 T/Ha in each profile (from 346.0 to 1138.1 T/Ha). Current management has fostered the retention of large stores of soil Carbon on such soils/farms which co-exist within highly productive farm systems. As there is a societal demand to retain and enhance soil carbon stores to mitigate climate change, high Carbon soils should be identified and, under appropriate policies, commodified to offer a direct incentive to retain soil Carbon. The value of this resource should be recognised and polices to ensure a spatially explicit approach for soil Carbon management should be adopted.
  • Dairy processing sludge and co-products: A review of present and future re-use pathways in agriculture

    Shi, W.; Healy, M.G.; Ashekuzzaman, S.M.; Daly, k.; Leahy, J.J.; Fenton, O.; European Union; 814258 (Elsevier, 2021-09)
    The dairy industry is one of the largest global producers of wastewater and generates huge volumes of dairy processing sludge (DPS). There are two main types of DPS, lime-treated dissolved air floatation sludge and bio-chemically-treated activated sludge. These sludge types may also be converted to STRUBIAS (STRUvite, BIochar, AShes) products which have potential as fertilizers, secondary feedstocks for phosphate fertiliser granules, and soil amendments. A small number of studies indicate that these products have variable nutrient and metal contents, which differ across sludge and STRUBIAS product types. This is due to many factors such as the type of dairy plants, wastewater treatment process and production technologies. Although such products are land applied, the phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) fertilizer equivalency value (FEV) are often unknown and not factored into application rates, and therefore need study under field conditions (across soil and crop types). This review identifies a need to quantify antimicrobial drugs, hormones, pesticides, disinfectants, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), microplastics and nano-particles in all DPS and STRUBIAS types. Where detected, testing should follow the transfer of these contaminants to the soil, crop and water continuum. Further knowledge in the areas identified would enable both agronomic and environmental goals to be met and promote higher uptake of DPS and STRUBIAS re-use in agriculture.
  • Selecting appropriate plant indicator species for Result-Based Agri-Environment Payments schemes

    Ruas, Sara; Rotchés-Ribalta, Roser; hUallacháin, Daire Ó; Ahmed, Karzan D.; Gormally, Michael; Stout, Jane C.; White, Blánaid; Moran, James; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; RSF15_S_619 (Elsevier, 2021-07)
    Agri-Environment Schemes (AES) have long been implemented across Europe to incentivise farmers to alter their management practices to improve biodiversity and water, air and soil quality. However, the cost-effectiveness of traditional action-based schemes has been questioned, and Result-Based Payment (RBP) schemes have been recommended as an alternative. To evaluate the effectiveness of management actions, RBP approaches often rely on indicator species to monitor changes in environmental conditions. The selection of appropriate indicator species for RBP follows several steps and criteria. One of the mentioned criteria is that the species should react to the farmer’s management choices. Thus, the main objective of this study is to understand how existing lists of indicator plant species (aimed at assessing ecological integrity of grasslands and hedgerows in Ireland) are suitable for RBP schemes, by assessing how different environmental and management variables are related to the presence of the plant species selected. Extensive field surveys were conducted to assess the presence and cover of indicator species in grasslands and hedgerows in two study regions in Ireland. The indicator plant species occurrence and diversity (species richness and Simpson’s Diversity Index) were correlated with variables within farmers’ control and variables outside farmers’ control. Results showed that grassland indicator species occurrence and diversity was mainly related to grassland semi-naturalness and to the diversity of habitats existing on the farm – both variables within farmers’ control – and thus were appropriate indicators for assessing the effectiveness of management and suitable for use in RBP schemes. Conversely, the occurrence and diversity of hedgerow indicator species was not strongly related to any of the explanatory variables, making them unsuitable for use in a RBP scheme. For a RBP scheme targeted at hedgerows, clear objectives will need to be established and the farmers’ management choices need to be better linked to the selected indicator species. The selection of indicator species needs to undergo scientific scrutiny to develop fair results assessments as shown by the results of this study. The analyses conducted highlight the importance of testing if the species react to the farmers’ management choices and should be a key methodological step before final indicator species lists are implemented in RBP schemes. Recommendations for results assessments in RBP approaches are discussed based on the results of this study.
  • Differing effects of increasing calcium ammonium nitrate, urea and urea + NBPT fertiliser rates on nitrous oxide emission factors at six temperate grassland sites in Ireland

    Rahman, Niharika; Richards, Karl G.; Harty, Mary A.; Watson, Catherine J.; Carolan, Rachael; Krol, Dominika; Lanigan, Gary J.; Forrestal, Patrick J.; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-06)
    The present study evaluated the impact of three nitrogen (N) fertiliser formulations, applied at five N rates, on nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes and annual direct N2O-N emission factors (EF) in temperate grassland. Closed static chambers were used to measure direct N2O fluxes at three geographically dispersed locations in Ireland over a two-year period, generating a total of 90 EFs across the six site-years and treatments. The three fertiliser formulations tested were calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), urea, and urea amended with the urease inhibitor N-(n-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT) at 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 kg N ha−1 yr−1. All treatments were applied in five equal split applications ranging from 20 to 100 kg N ha−1 split-1 over the growing season. The N2O-N EFs for CAN ranged from 0.39 − 4.68 with a mean of 1.62 (cv. 81 %), for urea from 0.04 – 1.7 with a mean of 0.46 (cv. 77 %) and for urea + NBPT from 0.18 – 1.7 with a mean of 0.60 (cv. 59 %). A significant positive relationship was found between the N rate and the annual N2O-N EFs in three (CAN), five (urea) and two (urea + NBPT) of six the site-years. For the remainder of the site-years EF was unaffected by N rate. These results indicate that fertiliser N choice and rate can be management factors that enable farmers to alter N2O losses in temperate grassland. Notably, the response of EF to increasing N rate was not consistent across the fertilisers, with the EF from urea being the most sensitive to the increasing N rate, urea + NBPT the least sensitive and CAN being intermediate. The accuracy of national greenhouse gas accounting could be improved by including N fertiliser formulation and its rate of application. Further research is also needed to understand the inconsistency in EF response to N rate across sites.
  • Modelling the effect of feeding management on greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions in cattle farming systems

    Ouatahar, Latifa; Bannink, André; Lanigan, Gary; Amon, Barbara; Teagasc Walsh Scholarship Fund; The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy-ATB Potsdam (Elsevier, 2021-07)
    Feed management decisions are an important element of managing greenhouse gas (GHG) and nitrogen (N) emissions in livestock farming systems. This review aims to a) discuss the impact of feed management practices on emissions in beef and dairy production systems and b) assess different modelling approaches used for quantifying the impact of these abatement measures at different stages of the feed and manure management chain. Statistical and empirical models are well-suited for practical applications when evaluating mitigation strategies, such as GHG calculator tools for farmers and for inventory purposes. Process-based simulation models are more likely to provide insights into the impact of biotic and abiotic drivers on GHG and N emissions. These models are based on equations which mathematically describe processes such as fermentation, aerobic and anaerobic respiration, denitrification, etc. and require a greater number of input parameters. Ultimately, the modelling approach used will be determined by a) the activity input data available, b) the temporal and spatial resolution required and c) the suite of emissions being studied. Simulation models are likely candidates to be able to better explain variation in on-farm GHG and N emissions, and predict with a higher accuracy for a specific mitigation measure under defined farming conditions, due to the fact that they better represent the underlying mechanisms causal for emissions. Integrated farm system models often make use of rather generic values or empirical models to quantify individual emissions sources, whereas combining a whole set of process-based models (or their results) that simulates the variation in GHG and N emissions and the associated whole farm budget has not been used. The latter represents a valuable approach to delineate underlying processes and their drivers within the system and to evaluate the integral effect on GHG emissions with different mitigation options.
  • Assessing the impact of long-term soil phosphorus on N-transformation pathways using 15N tracing

    O'Neill, R.M.; Krol, D.J.; Wall, D.; Lanigan, G.J.; Renou-Wilson, F.; Richards, K.G.; Jansen-Willems, A.B.; Müller, C.; Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine; Teagasc Walsh Scholarship Scheme; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-01)
    A laboratory incubation study was conducted on a temperate grassland soil to quantify the main mineral nitrogen (N) transformation rates and pathways via a15N tracing approach. Soil samples were taken from a long-term phosphorus (P) trial to investigate the effects on gross N-transformations under high and low phosphorus amendment. The soils were incubated over a 2-week period and treated with ammonium-nitrate (NH4NO3) which was applied to the soil both with and without a glucose amendment and labelled with 15N either on the ammonium (NH4+) or nitrate (NO3−) moiety at 50% atom enrichment. The results showed immobilisation to greatly outweigh mineralisation and that NO3− was predominantly produced via heterotrophic nitrification. Individual pathways for NO3− production were quantified including oxidation of NH4+, recalcitrant and labile organic N. Oxidation of labile organic N to NO3−, a newly considered pathway, accounted for between 63 and 83% of total NO3− production across the various treatments and P levels. This process was significantly higher in the low-P rather than the high-P soils (p < 0.05), highlighting the effect of soil P on the microbial community.
  • An overview on deficit and requirements of the Irish national soil phosphorus balance

    O'Donnell, Ciarán; Egan, Aoife; Harrington, Joe; Barnett, Denise; Forrestal, Patrick; Power, Niamh; EU Interreg North-West Europe (NWE) Programme (Elsevier, 2021-09)
    Phosphorus (P) is an essential life-supporting nutrient for which there is no substitute. Modern farming practice and food production are supported by the application of mineral P fertiliser derived from finite mined phosphate rock. The European Union does not have indigenous mineral phosphate reserves, which poses a significant issue to food security. This research paper assesses the potential of indigenous recycled P sources to replace imported P fertiliser within the Republic of Ireland. The research is undertaken at NUTS 3 (Nomenclature of Territorial Units) regional level, the nutrient soil P requirement is established, and the extent to which the regional production of indigenous recycled P sources can offset this requirement is determined. The soil P requirement was derived from analyzing the regional soil P indexes, stocking rate and land-use. It was established that to optimise Irish agricultural production, approximately 95,500 t of P fertiliser is required by Irish agriculture per annum. Indigenous P sources were reviewed to determine their contribution to the Irish P balance; the sources included sewage sludge, dairy processing waste, and animal manures. Regional indigenous P quantities vary greatly with the South-West Region producing the largest quantity of indigenous recycled P at 42.4% of required P than the Mid-West Region only producing 22.0% of its P requirement indigenously. Sources of indigenous P also vary greatly from region to region depending on population and industry, with the highest quantity of sewage sludge being produced in the Dublin plus Mid-East Region while the greatest contributor of dairy waste is the South-West Region. In total, over 28,500 t of P is recovered from indigenous sources per annum. This indicates that approximately 30% of the national P requirement could be met by indigenous P recycling.
  • Mitigating ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions from stored cattle slurry using agricultural waste, commercially available products and a chemical acidifier

    Kavanagh, I.; Fenton, O.; Healy, M.G.; Burchill, W.; Lanigan, G.J.; Krol, D.J.; Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Walsh scholarship programme; RSF 13/S/430 (Elsevier, 2021-04)
    The production of bovine slurry and its subsequent storage are significant sources of ammonia (NH3) and greenhouse gases (GHGs). Chemical acidification of manures has been shown to significantly reduce these emissions. Waste products, derived from food processing and on-farm practices, may be used as “natural” acidifiers. However, the efficacy of these products in reducing pH and any subsequent emissions are unknown. Commercial “slurry improvers” or “additives” may also be a viable mitigation option; however, their effectiveness is questionable. This study investigated the efficacy and cost of a range of waste and commercial amendments and a chemical acidifier, ferric chloride (FeCl3), to identify the most effective amendment for NH3 and GHG emissions reduction. Ammonia abatement potential was observed for 5% sugar beet molasses (67% reduction), 7% apple pulp (49% reduction), and 7% grass silage (38% reduction). Methane (CH4) emissions were reduced only by spent brewers’ grain, sugarbeet molasses, and grass silage effluent at the higher inclusions (i.e. amounts added), with reductions ranging from 15% to 70%. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were significantly increased with the addition of waste amendments. Commercially available additives had little impact on emissions, with the exception of one treatment, which reduced CH4 by approximately 10%. Ferric chloride reduced NH3 emissions by 20%–68%, CH4 by 6%–65%, and CO2 by 6%–38%, depending on the inclusion. All waste amendments had low marginal abatement costs ranging from -€0.46 to €0.88 kg−1 NH3 abated compared to FeCl3 and commercial amendments (€1.80 to €231 kg−1 NH3). This incubation experiment demonstrated that a range of on-farm and industry waste streams could be valorised to reduce NH3 emissions. However, many of these may result in higher CH4 and CO2 emissions due to input of labile carbon sources. Therefore, based on the results of the current study, it is recommended that sugarbeet molasses and ferric chloride, at 5% and 1.1% inclusions respectively, be examined in field experiments.
  • Datafile: Effects of experimental drought and plant diversity on ecosystem multifunctionality

    Grange, Guylain; Brophy, Caroline; Vishwakarma, Rishabh; Finn, John; Teagasc Walsh Scholarship Programme; 0806 (2024-01-22)
    Contains a dataset, ReadMe file and statistical code for a multivariate analysis of six agronomic responses from a field experiment that manipulated diversity from one to six plant species within multi-species mixtures. The experiment also imposed an experimental drought to investigate the effect of plant diversity and drought on the selected responses.
  • Mitigation of Gaseous Emissions from Livestock Systems: A Farm-Level Method to Examine the Financial Implications

    Cantillon, Marion; O’Brien, Donal; Hennessy, Thia; Amon, Barbara; Dragoni, Federico; European Research Area Network (ERANET); Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; 2019EN201 (Elsevier BV, 2023)
    Feeding the world's population while minimising the contribution of agriculture to climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing modern society. This challenge is particularly pronounced for dairy production where the carbon footprint of products and the mitigation costs are high, relative to other food stuffs. This paper reviews a number of mitigation measures that may be adopted by dairy farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their farms. A simulation model is developed to assess the cost-benefit of a range of mitigation measures. The model is applied to data from Ireland, a country with a large export-oriented dairy industry, for a range of farms including top, middle and bottom performing farms from a profitability perspective. The mitigation measures modelled included animal productivity, grass production and utilisation, better reproductive performance, early compact calving, reduced crude protein, decreased fertiliser N, protected urea, white clover, slurry tank cover and low emission slurry spreading (LESS). The results show that over half of the greenhouse gas abatement potential and most of the ammonia abatement potential were realised with cost-beneficial measures. Animal and feed-related measures that increased efficiency drove the abatement of GHG emissions. Low-emission slurry spreading was beneficial for the bottom and middle one-third of farms, while protected urea and reducing nitrogen use accounted for most of the ammonia abatement potential for the most profitable farms. Results showed that combining mitigation measures resulted in a decrease of 23%, 19%, and 12% in GHG emissions below 2020 levels for the bottom, middle, and top performing dairy farms, respectively. The findings imply that top dairy farms, that are already managed efficiently and optimally, may struggle to achieve the national and international GHG reduction targets with existing technologies and practices.
  • Source partitioning using N2O isotopomers and soil WFPS to establish dominant N2O production pathways from different pasture sward compositions

    Bracken, Conor J.; Lanigan, Gary J.; Richards, Karl G.; Müller, Christoph; Tracy, Saoirse R.; Grant, James; Krol, Dominika J.; Sheridan, Helen; Lynch, Mary Bridget; Grace, Cornelia; et al. (Elsevier, 2021-08)
    Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted from agricultural soils and is influenced by nitrogen (N) fertiliser management and weather and soil conditions. Source partitioning N2O emissions related to management practices and soil conditions could suggest effective mitigation strategies. Multispecies swards can maintain herbage yields at reduced N fertiliser rates compared to grass monocultures and may reduce N losses to the wider environment. A restricted-simplex centroid experiment was used to measure daily N2O fluxes and associated isotopomers from eight experimental plots (7.8 m2) post a urea-N fertiliser application (40 kg N ha−1). Experimental pastures consisted of differing proportions of grass, legume and forage herb represented by perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), white clover (Trifolium repens) and ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), respectively. N2O isotopomers were measured using a cavity ring down spectroscopy (CRDS) instrument adapted with a small sample isotope module (SSIM) for the analysis of gas samples ≤20 mL. Site preference (SP = δ15Nα – δ15Nβ) and δ15Nbulk ((δ15Nα + δ15Nβ) / 2) values were used to attribute N2O production to nitrification, denitrification or a mixture of both nitrification and denitrification over a range of soil WFPS (%). Daily N2O fluxes ranged from 8.26 to 86.86 g N2O-N ha−1 d−1. Overall, 34.2% of daily N2O fluxes were attributed to nitrification, 29.0% to denitrification and 36.8% to a mixture of both. A significant diversity effect of white clover and ribwort plantain on predicted SP and δ15Nbulk indicated that the inclusion of ribwort plantain may decrease N2O emission through biological nitrification inhibition under drier soil conditions (31%–75% WFPS). Likewise, a sharp decline in predicted SP indicates that increased white clover content could increase N2O emissions associated with denitrification under elevated soil moisture conditions (43%–77% WFPS). Biological nitrification inhibition from ribwort plantain inclusion in grassland swards and management of N fertiliser source and application timing to match soil moisture conditions could be useful N2O mitigation strategies.
  • Evaluation of the fertiliser replacement value of phosphorus-saturated filter media

    Arenas-Montaño, V.; Fenton, O.; Moore, B.; Healy, M.G.; European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme; 675120 (Elsevier, 2021-04-01)
    The use of filter media to adsorb phosphorus (P) from nutrient-rich waters is an effective, simple and low-cost method to recover and reuse P as an inorganic fertiliser replacement. Although it is assumed that the saturated filter media can be applied to cropland as a safe fertiliser replacement, there is presently a lack of information on the fertiliser replacement value (FRV) of such products and their negative effects on plants and soil. Therefore, the aims of this paper were to evaluate the (1) P removal capacity and plant response to soil application of waste media from three sectors (industry, agriculture, and construction and demolition), and natural and synthetic materials (2) potentially confounding risks arising from the reuse of media as a fertiliser replacement, and (3) factors affecting their fertilising efficiency once applied to soil. The predominant factors affecting the FRV of P-saturated media were their adsorption capacity and chemical composition, soil pH, and composition of water used for saturation. Some measures to overcome the negative impacts of the land application of P-saturated media include selecting the most appropriate soil-filter material combinations, the use of P solubilising microorganisms, and mixing with manure before land application. Despite confounding factors and a lack of information on the performance of some media under comparable study conditions, this study found that there is a significant potential for P-saturated filter media to partially replace the use of P mineral fertilisers and aid in the attainment of a “circular economy” in agriculture.
  • Development of a grass measurement optimisation tool to efficiently measure herbage mass on grazed pastures

    Murphy, D.J.; O'Brien, B.; Murphy, M.D.; Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; European Commission (Elsevier, 2020-11-30)
    Accurate and efficient estimation of herbage mass is essential for optimising grass utilisation and increasing profit for pasture farming. There is no definitive sampling protocol for grass measurement on Irish pastures. This paper presents the Grass Measurement Optimisation Tool (GMOT), designed to generate measurement protocols that optimise for time and accuracy. The GMOT was designed in the form of a decision support tool that generates interactive paddock maps that guide the farmer on how to optimally measure their pastures in a random stratified manner based on GPS co-ordinates, resulting in accurate non-biased estimations of mean herbage mass. Rising plate meter (RPM) measurements and reference herbage cuts were performed on trial plots and grazed paddocks over three years. Measurement routes were optimised using a genetic algorithm based on a traveling salesman problem. Actual survey error was estimated in terms of relative prediction error using Monte Carlo simulations that combined measurement and calibration error distributions for the RPM. Cost benefit analysis was conducted to evaluate the feasibility of using the GMOT on Irish grasslands. Actual error for the RPM decreased from 37% to 26% as measurement rates increased from 1 to 8 ha−1 and reductions in error were negligible (<1%) as measurements increased from 8 to 32 ha−1. Calibration error was the largest source of error (25.9%) compared to measurement error (8%). Optimal measurement value was achieved by performing 8 measures ha−1 and further increasing the measurement rate resulted in diminishing returns. The GMOT is compatible with a range of pasture measurement technologies.
  • Nitrogen fertiliser interactions with urine deposit affect nitrous oxide emissions from grazed grasslands

    Maire, J.; Krol, D.; Pasquier, D.; Cowan, N.; Skiba, U.; Rees, R.M.; Reay, D.; Lanigan, G.J.; Richards, K.G.; Walsh fellowship program at Teagasc; et al. (Elsevier, 2020-03)
    Cattle excreta deposited on grazed pastures are responsible for one fifth of the global anthropogenic nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. One of the key nitrogen (N) sources is urine deposited from grazing animals, which contributes to very large N loadings within small areas. The main objective of this plot study was to establish whether the application of N fertiliser and urine deposit from dairy cows synergistically interacts and thereby increases N2O emissions, and how such interaction is influenced by the timing of application. The combined application of fertiliser (calcium ammonium nitrate) and urine significantly increased the cumulative N2O emissions as well as the N2O emission factor (EF) from 0.35 to 0.74 % in spring and from 0.26 to 0.52 % in summer. By contrast, EFs were lower when only fertiliser (0.31 % in spring, 0.07 % in summer) or urine was applied (0.33 % in spring, 0.28 % in summer). In autumn, N2O emissions were larger than in other seasons and the emissions from the combined application were not statistically different to those from either the separately applied urine or N fertiliser (EF ranging from 0.72 to 0.83, p-value < 0.05). The absence of significant synergistic effect could be explained by weather conditions, particularly rainfall during the three days prior to and after application in autumn. This study implies that the interactive effects of N fertilisation and urine deposit, as well as the timing of the application on N2O emission need to be taken into account in greenhouse gas emission inventories.

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