L-R: Dominc O Shea (Loop Head Together), David Maguire (Wild Atlantic Hemp), Daniel Lyons (Wild Atlantic Hemp), Laura Foley MSc (Hemp4Soil Project Lead), Dr Lena Madden (Technological University of the Shannon) Margaret Cotter (Clare Co. Council) Kate Carmody (Chairperson, Hemp Co-operative Ireland) Dr Kate Randall (University of Essex) Tony Collins (Loop Head Together) Eileen Delaney (Department of Agriculture) Dr Robert Johnson (Arigna Biofuels) Fergal Keane, Ciarán Bonfil and Fionn Doherty (Young Entrepreneurs from Loop Head – Hemp Bale Netting Project)

A South-West Clare forum has launched an experimental project that is the first of its kind in Europe.

Earlier this month, Loop Head Together, a community based, local development and farming forum launched their Hemp4Soil, EIP, project at the Irish Hemp Event 2022, organised by Hemp Cooperative Ireland in association with Teagasc. The experimental project is the first of its kind in Europe.

The exciting one-year project will explore how growing HEMP on the land of local farmers on the Loop Head Peninsula, could vastly improve the overall quality of the soil and benefit local biodiversity. The results could potentially help create sustainable income streams for the farmers in the future, as well as providing a product, from which the offshoots could inspire local industry.

Hemp4Soil aims to use regenerative farming techniques to improve life in the soil in three ways, Soil Remediation, Microbial Life, Carbon Storage. The main objectives of the project are to reduce the presence of chemical fertilizers, improve soil microbial activity, increase carbon content of the soil, and provide training opportunities and knowledge transfer along with community dissemination.

At the project launch, held in the Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre, Laura J Foley MSc, introduced the project concept, along with Dr Kate C Randall and Dr Lena Madden, who are working with Laura on the preparation and scientific monitoring of the soil, highlighting the many potential benefits to the environment, the farmer, and the wider community.

They pointed to the potential for a follow up ‘Phase 2’ project, which might look at a regulated roll out of hemp cultivation as a ‘farming initiative’. There will also be opportunities to look far more closely at the various off shoot industries and circular economy solutions that could arise around the need to lock in the carbon sequestered by the crop.

Limerick native Laura who moved to South-West Clare after completing college, holds a ‘Masters’ in Agriculture, from NUIG. “Hemp has the potential to solve many of our environmental challenges in a way that is economically beneficial to farming communities. Incorporating hemp cultivation and regenerative farming techniques into our traditional farming system has the potential to reduce costly inputs while creating additional revenue streams for farms,” she stated.

Another exciting element to this project, surrounds the work of Ennis native, Sinead Madden, PhD Candidate from the University of Limerick’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. Sinead is researching Hybrid Computational Mathematical Modelling to ascertain how hemp can be used for carbon sequestration. Her initial findings suggest that a relatively small quantity of land devoted to hemp cultivation could offset a significant amount of National Agricultural carbon emissions.

Rural and Community Development Officer with Clare County Council, Margaret Cotter officially launched Hemp4Soil. “This kind of leadership and drive for innovation in sustainable and climate aware practices must be contagious in Loop Head, as we see, on this project, the Agri-sector rowing in behind their tourism neighbours, with their commitment to sustainability. This project is a first in farms in Ireland and has potential to deliver far reaching impacts as it progresses. This is a wonderful demonstration of how a small rural community can lead the way in research and real-life practice for climate initiatives and potential carbon sequestration,” she commented.

Tony Collins, a representative of the Loop Head Together group said they and Carrigaholt Development Association “are delighted to be supporting this exciting experiment. The people of Loop Head have been brilliant as always, and the farmers are excited to see the potential benefits to the overall quality of the soil and the local biodiversity. They are looking forward to learning more around the potential for sustainable local industry”.

The Loop Head Peninsula have won many awards for their efforts in sustainable and responsible tourism and with Clare County Council having now nominated Loop Head as their pilot decarbonizing zone, this project, and its future ‘Phase 2’ element, around carbon sequestration, certainly align with Europe’s 2030 Goals around achieving carbon neutrality.

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