The Loop Head hemp project, the first of its kind in Europe

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From left to right: 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 (Chair, 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 (Loop Head Youth Entrepreneurs – Hemp Netting Project)

A forum in south-west Clare has launched an experimental project which is the first of its kind in Europe.

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

This exciting year-long project will explore how growing hemp on local farmers’ land on the Loop Head Peninsula could dramatically improve overall soil quality and benefit local biodiversity. The results could potentially help create sustainable income streams for farmers in the future, as well as provide a product whose ramifications could inspire local industry.

Hemp4Soil aims to use regenerative farming techniques to improve soil life in three ways: soil remediation, microbial life, carbon storage. The main objectives of the project are to reduce the presence of chemical fertilizers, to improve the microbial activity of the soil, to increase the carbon content of the soil and to provide opportunities for training and knowledge transfer as well as the dissemination community.

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

They pointed to the potential for a follow-on “Phase 2” project, which could consider a regulated deployment of hemp cultivation as an “agricultural initiative.” It will also be possible to take a closer look at the various spin-off industries and circular economy solutions that may arise around the need to lock in the carbon sequestered by culture.

Laura, originally from Limerick, who moved to South West Clare after finishing university, has 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. Integrating hemp cultivation and regenerative agriculture techniques into our traditional farming system has the potential to reduce costly inputs while creating additional revenue streams for farms,” she said.

Another exciting element of this project involves the work of Ennis native Sinead Madden, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Limerick. Sinead is researching hybrid computational mathematical modeling to determine how hemp can be used for carbon sequestration. His early findings suggest that a relatively small amount of land dedicated to growing hemp could offset a significant amount of national agricultural carbon emissions.

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

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

The Loop Head Peninsula has won numerous awards for its sustainable and responsible tourism efforts and with Clare County Council having now named Loop Head as a pilot decarbonisation area, this project and its future ‘Phase 2’ element, around carbon sequestration, certainly align with Europe’s 2030 targets around carbon neutrality.

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