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Ireland: Two UL researchers awarded over €1 million in Department of Agriculture funding

Two University researchers have been awarded grants totaling more than €1 million from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Projects led by Professor Ken Byrne and Associate Professor Achim Schmalenberger both from the Department of Biological Sciences, are among 21 new research projects funded by the 2023 Department of Agriculture Thematic Research Call.

In total, funding of €22.3 million has been provided.

Professor Ken Byrne is principal investigator on PeatFor, which is the management of peatland forests for climate, biodiversity and water quality. Forests have a key role to play in mitigating climate change. Thirty-eight percent of Ireland's forests are on peat and there is an urgent need for empirical data on carbon dynamics on greenhouse gas exchange to support national climate policy, international reporting requirements, and the identification of sustainable emission reduction pathways.

PeatFor addresses these challenges through a set of complementary tasks that will set up a series of field experiments to assess carbon dynamics and greenhouse gas exchange, impacts of forest management interventions, including rewetting, on biodiversity. The results of these field investigations will be combined in a modelling framework to assess the current and future sustainability of peatland forest.

SafeGreen is the project led by Associate Professor Achim Schmalenberger which will assess the risk of foodborne pathogen contamination in fresh fruit and vegetable productions.

The project will investigate the potential contamination of the food products with hazardous bacteria which may cause a barrier to increasing consumption of fresh green vegetables and fruits. In particular, consumption of unprocessed fruit and vegetables that are cultivated in the open environment such as spinach and apples pose a potential risk through contamination by foodborne pathogens. SafeGreen will provide potential solutions to reduce the identified risks of pathogen contamination.

Announcing the successful projects at an event in Farmleigh House, Minister of State with special responsibility for Research and Development Martin Heydon T.D said: "These awards will see research work being conducted across a wide range of areas including, low emissions dairy production, carbon sequestration in agricultural soils, developing farmland nature credits, optimizing oat production and processing for healthy foods, assessing the impact of deer in forestry, advancing the Irish wool sector, sustainable packaging materials, and improving shelf life of dairy products, among others".

The funding will support 48 postgraduate student positions and a further 55 postdoctoral and contract researchers across the 17 institutes receiving funding.

Combined with the projects announced in Tranche I, this amounts to support for over 200 research positions. This ensures a pool of highly skilled researchers for these sectors, keeping Ireland at the cutting edge of science, technology and innovation.

"This investment builds on the first tranche of projects that received funding last December. Taken together, these represent an overall investment of €46 million, the largest ever from a research call run by my Department. This investment will help equip the Irish agriculture, food, forest and bioeconomy sectors with the science and technology they need to become even more sustainable and competitive into the future.

"Practices across the agri-food, forest and bioeconomy sectors are always evolving and Ireland should be at the forefront of these developments. A steady pipeline of new solutions is the cornerstone of increasing economic, environmental, and social sustainability and the next step is for the output of these projects to reach end-users such as farmers, advisors, policy makers and industry stakeholders," Minister Heydon added.

As part of the ongoing North-South co-operation on agri-food research and innovation, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland collaborated in this research call by providing funding to enable eligible research organisations in Northern Ireland to participate in projects with partners in Ireland. Two projects will benefit from this collaboration in this Tranche II list


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