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In her new role Dr Vero will further her research, focusing on soil, particularly nutrient management, and timing of operations including slurry spreading and grazing

Walton Institute and South East Technological University (SETU) are delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Sara Vero as a Funded Investigator at the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre.

The VistaMilk SFI Research Centre, co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), aims to be an agent of growth for the Irish dairy industry, facilitating the development and deployment of new knowledge, new technologies and new decision support tools to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire dairy production chain.

Bringing together expertise in biological sciences, sensor-systems, communications and networking, data analytics, and food processing, VistaMilk explores four inter-dependent thematic areas to achieve this – Soil, Pasture, Cow, and Food. With her extensive background in agriculture and soil sciences, Dr Vero will be an invaluable contribution to the team.

Soil an important asset for Irish agriculture

Donagh Berry, Director of VistaMilk, who nominated Dr Vero as Funded Investigator in VistaMilk said, “Soil is a hugely important asset for Irish agriculture. No one is more aware of this than farmers themselves who are custodians of our natural habitats. Sara’s exciting and innovative research will add to the armory of tools at the disposal of Irish farmers for sustaining their commitment to producing environmentally benign, safe and nutritious dairy products.”

Assistant lecturer in Agricultural Science at SETU in Waterford, Dr Vero holds a Degree in Agricultural Science, a Master of Science from University College Dublin, and a PhD in civil engineering on the topic of soil science and hydrology from National University of Ireland, Galway. She also conducted a post-doc at Kansas State University looking at prairie hydrology, and has worked with the Teagasc Agricultural Catchments Program and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.  As a Funded Investigator in VistaMilk, Dr Vero will further her research, focusing on soil, particularly nutrient management, and timing of operations including slurry spreading and grazing.

Grazing and slurry spreading challenges

Grazing and slurry spreading are two fundamental challenges faced by grassland farmers. Given the rising cost of fertilisers, the efficient use of slurry and manure is a crucial element of economic sustainability, while also playing an important part in achieving water quality targets.

In collaboration with partners in the Walton Institute and Met Éireann, Dr Vero is evaluating patterns of soil moisture and how they influence suitable dates for slurry application across Ireland. Ultimately, hoping to achieve more precise estimates of ground conditions, which can inform any future changes to regulations, and will have short-term predictive capabilities that can be incorporated into national forecasting for slurry application.

Substantial natural advantages in Ireland

Speaking of her new role as a Funded Investigator at VistaMilk, Dr Vero said, “This is a huge opportunity for me to further my work on key soil-related challenges faced by the dairy sector. By working with researchers from the Walton Institute, my research on soil-moisture is being upscaled from field to national-scale, which means we can contribute to better informed policy and boots-on-the-ground decision-making. I'm also really excited to develop projects with the grassland researchers located in the other VistaMilk host institutes, so that we can investigate the continuum of impacts from what we do to the soil, through its effects on the sward, to the final Irish dairy food product.”

“We need to work smarter, not harder,” said Dr Vero, when it comes to soil and resource management, that is the underlying principle of her research. “In Ireland, we have substantial natural advantages when it comes to pasture-based production. By carefully identifying needs and opportunities at farm-scale can help to make the most of these attributes.”

Commenting on the significance of this work, Dr Deirdre Kilbane, Director of Research at Walton Institute said, “We are delighted to be collaborating with Dr Vero, using our expertise in data analytics to support important research for slurry applications.”

How soil structure influences phosphorus availability

Prof Peter McLoughlin, Head of the School of Science and Computing at SETU in Waterford added, “The appointment of Dr Vero as a Funded Investigator is an important recognition of her research and a significant opportunity for Dr Vero to contribute to the development of smarter sustainable solutions to dairy production. Dr Vero’s research also facilitates connectivity between the research of VistaMilk and undergraduate education in the Department of Land Sciences at SETU.”

Dr Vero is currently investigating how soil structure influences phosphorus availability with PhD student Patricia Roche. Together they are running grass trials across different soil indices and structures, along with runoff experiments, and soil structural analyses in the laboratory.

Photo Caption: (L-R) Patricia Roche, PhD student and Dr Sara Vero, Funded Investigator at VistaMilk and Assistant lecturer in Agricultural Science at South East Technological University
Photo Credit: Patrick Browne