A £45m scheme to improve soil health on farms in Northern Ireland has prompted a strong uptake among growers and livestock producers.
The first phase – Zone 1 – of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (Daera) Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) was launched earlier this summer.
The scheme is an attempt to benchmark soil health and provide advice on how to improve it.
Participating in the scheme provides farmers with:
- Detailed information on the nutrient status of their soils
- Farm-level estimates of carbon stored in the soils, hedgerows and trees
- Run-off risk maps for nutrient loss to waterbodies for each field
- Training on the interpretation of soil nutrient reports and generation of farm nutrient management plans.
Initial findings released by Daera show that more than 90% of eligible fields were registered by the 31 August cut-off date.
Daera minister Edwin Poots welcomed the swift response. “The SNHS online registration process has allowed farmers in Zone 1 – County Down and parts of Counties Armagh and Antrim – to participate,” he said.
“Uptake has been very successful, with more than 90% of eligible fields registered, and I look forward to the scheme providing our farmers with key information, on which future farming decisions can be based.”
In the coming weeks, registered farmers will be contacted by advisers from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), an arms-length body of the NI Executive.
Soil sampling and collections are expected to begin in mid-November and run until February 2023. Once fields have been sampled, farmers can expect to receive their soil sample analysis results and fertiliser recommendations within four to six weeks, a Daera spokesman said.
Map-based soil nutrient results and run-off risks will be provided, with College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (Cafre) advisers on hand to help interpret results.
However, despite the success and momentum of the scheme rollout, Daera has launched an inquiry into why more Zone 1 farmers failed to register.
The 10% of farmers who had not submitted applications by 31 August will be contacted by Daera officials for feedback, the spokesman said.
Daera will also seek views from a cross-section of Zone 1 farmers for suggestions on how the process could be improved for the next phases – Zones 2, 3 and 4.