First phase of soil sampling scheme well underway

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The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) is rolling out in its first phase in County Down and parts of Counties Armagh and Antrim.

Sampling teams are now on the ground across the area, working systematically to cover the 150,000 fields registered for sampling over the winter period.

As the largest baseline soil sampling programme ever undertaken, significant organisation and planning have been required both by AFBI and their sub-contractors to ensure smooth roll-out and execution. During peak sampling up to 12,000 fields per week will be sampled and processed!

In advance of going out to each farm, AFBI’s sampling contractors RPS Group will contact farmers to check conditions and confirm when they will be sampled. Once on-site each field will be sampled in a representative “W” pattern across the field, taking a minimum of 25 soil cores and with the sample track recorded by GPS. Each sample bag is digitally labelled to allow for full traceability from field, to collection and transfer to NRM laboratories, analysis and generation of results.

During peak sampling up to 12,000 fields per week will be sampled and processed!During peak sampling up to 12,000 fields per week will be sampled and processed!
During peak sampling up to 12,000 fields per week will be sampled and processed!

Within four to six weeks of sampling farmers will receive a soil nutrient report direct from NRM laboratories in the post. This will contain tables of results and recommendations based on their supplied crop information.

Following this, registered farmers will also receive access to a set of maps for their farm that will include soil analysis results for all fields and indicating those areas at highest risk of runoff and nutrient loss during rainfall.

This will be accessible through their DAERA online account, where they will be able to download and print a full map report for use in their nutrient management planning on farm. For those farmers without online access, agents and local DAERA offices will be able to provide support.

Alongside the delivery of results and recommendations to farmers, a comprehensive soil nutrient training programme will be provided to all farmers by CAFRE. This, primarily online, course will help farmers interpret their soil analysis results, provide an understanding of nutrient management planning and an overview on the role of carbon on farms.

The SNHS will continue in a zonal approach with all four zones sampled by March 2026.The SNHS will continue in a zonal approach with all four zones sampled by March 2026.
The SNHS will continue in a zonal approach with all four zones sampled by March 2026.

Dr Rachel Cassidy is leading the project at the Agri-Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI): “Farmers are being provided with data that will support them in making the best possible decisions around nutrient management on their farms. Training helps develop the skills needed to do this so I would urge all farmers to participate in the courses provided by CAFRE as part of this scheme.”

Dr Cassidy concluded: “One of the many benefits of this scheme will be to assist farmers with improving efficiency at a time when the spiralling costs of chemical fertilisers, feed and fuel continue to present many challenges. These events have highlighted our vulnerability to uncontrollable external forces and focussed attention across the industry on the importance of efficiency, to minimise the impact on farm profit margins and to help build resilience for the coming years. The scheme will also make a contribution to reducing farmers’ environmental footprint.”

The SNHS will continue in a zonal approach with all four zones sampled by March 2026.

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