Soil Nutrient Health Scheme: Registration Opens for Zone 1

Following the announcement in March 2022 of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) by the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has been preparing for its phased roll-out.

Due to the scale and complexity of the scheme, it will operate on a zonal basis with soil sample collection starting in the south east in autumn 2022, with the next three zones completed by 2026 (See image 1).

All farms eligible for Zone 1 sampling will receive a letter from AFBI in the coming days, inviting them to join the scheme and including instructions on the registration process, which opens on the 27th May, and can be accessed online via the Government Gateway at www.daera-ni.gov.uk/services/daera-online-services, once farmers receive their letter.

This free service will provide participating farmers with:

The location and sampling period for the Geographic Blocks within the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS).

(i) Detailed information on the nutrient status of their soils

(ii) Runoff risk maps for nutrient loss to waterbodies for each field sampled

(iii) Estimates of carbon stored in their soils and as above ground biomass for each farm

(iv) Training on the interpretation of soil nutrient reports and generation of farm nutrient plans (via the training provided by CAFRE).

Soil sampling will be undertaken by AFBI’s appointed sub-contractors RPS Group between November 2022 and February 2023 with fully accredited results available within 4-6 weeks. When the farm has been sampled and the soil reports received, each farmer will be invited to participate in CAFRE training and nutrient management planning.

The SNHS is one of the most comprehensive regional soil nutrient sampling schemes to be undertaken anywhere in the world. It will enable Northern Ireland farmers to optimise crop nutrient applications, assess on-farm carbon stocks and build farm resilience. Importantly, participating in the SNHS will also be a requirement for farmers accessing some future agricultural support schemes like the Farm Sustainability Payment and Farming with Nature. We would encourage farmers to register early to take advance of this free opportunity.

The information provided by the Scheme will allow farmers to target the application of crop nutrients to their soils, reduce nutrient waste and help increase farm profitability. Reductions in excess and better placement of nutrients should, in turn, lead to a decrease in losses to waterbodies and thereby contribute to achieving the targets of the Nutrient Action Programme. It will also provide a baseline assessment of farm carbon stocks in soils and hedgerows and contribute to the transition to Net Zero farming in Northern Ireland. For farms located in areas of basalt soils, research will assess nutrient interactions and grass nutrient uptake to produce refined fertiliser recommendations specific to these soils.

Speaking at the launch event, Head of Environment and Marine Sciences Division, Pieter-Jan Schön said: “Building on the success and experience gained from previous soil nutrient management pilot schemes that AFBI have delivered for DAERA in recent years (the EAA Soil Sampling and Analysis Scheme and Colebrooke and Strule Soil Testing and Training Initiative), I have full confidence that the AFBI team will ensure that farmers across NI receive maximum benefit from this funding’.