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Institute of Technology Carlow researchers work for soil nutrient sustainability in ReNu2Farm

08/11/2018

Intensification of agriculture to industrial scale brings, together with the much-desired food provision to an ever-increasing global population, various consequences at the expense of the planet and its ecosystems.  One such dire consequence is land degradation and soil nutrient loss. It is a necessity therefore in farming to add mineral fertilisers to the soil to replace lost nutrients, ensuring good yields. What most farmers, and indeed most consumers, don’t know, however, is that every time mineral fertilisers are used in our fields in Ireland and in Europe, mountains are demolished in other continents, as is the case, for example, with mineral phosphorous mined in South Africa. Or, that synthesis of chemical nitrogen fertiliser is very energetically expensive in terms of fossil fuel consumption. These are tremendous environmental violations, not only due to local African (and other) habitat destruction, but also due to the vast amounts of energy required to ship the mined phosphorus to Europe and to chemically produce nitrogen fertiliser.

A new European project, called ReNu2Farm (www.nweurope.eu/renu2farm), part funded by Interreg North-West Europe, sets out to do something about it. ReNu2Farm comprises 10 partners crossing over from higher education organisations to research institutes and industry, from Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Luxemburg, Belgium and Germany, that work to address the global threat posed to industrial agriculture by the vast depletion of the essential soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, K), without which plants cannot survive. The future of agriculture – and food security – necessitates nutrient recycling regionally, nationally and on a global scale. ReNu2Farm is a unique project in that it maps regions in North-West Europe with both nutrient shortage and surplus with the aim of exchanging recycled nutrients across the regions and foster producer-consumer collaborations. The project places the farmers at the heart of developments by engaging with them to tailor and develop recycling-derived fertilisers according to their needs, and between nutrient surplus and demand regions. The undertaking will help in establishing transnational markets, informing national and EU policy and market barrier reduction.

In Ireland, ReNu2Farm is spearheaded by a collaboration between the Institute of Technology Carlow, University of Limerick and Cork Institute of Technology. Last June the Institute of Technology Carlow hosted the official ReNu2Farm national launch, attracting the participation of over 60 stakeholder representatives from various research organisations, the fertiliser, waste management and agricultural industries, as well as the farming community. The project will also work closely with associated partners, Teagasc, the Southern Region Waste Management Office, the IFA and the larger farming community.  ReNu2Farm Project Manager at the Institute of Technology Carlow, and Director of enviroCORE, the Institute’s centre of research and enterprise providing solutions to environmental problems, Dr Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte says: “This is an exciting development for the region, but also nationally and internationally. The overall expected outcome by the end of the project will be the replacement of conventional mineral NPK fertilisers by recycling-derived equivalents and thus positively impacting soils and soil nutrient conservation.  As such, the project is in line with the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals, whose achievement is of absolutely vital significance to safeguard our precious planet for the generations to come”.

Photo: Thomaé Kakouli-Duarte, PhD.