Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs minister, Edwin Poots, launched the scheme during the Agriculture and Climate Change Conference at CAFRE’s Greenmount campus.
The scheme, described as an “innovative and forward looking soil sampling and carbon analysis scheme”, will be available to all farmers.
Now, DAERA have received final business case development approval from the Department of Finance meaning the scheme can be officially implemented. UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, said: “We’re delighted to hear that the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme will go ahead.
“It is the first of its kind and it marks a major milestone for our sector.
“Northern Ireland will be setting a high global standard and will become world leaders by introducing this soil testing and LiDAR scheme across the whole of NI.
“It has the potential to revolutionise the way we manage our land and soils as a region, and help us understand more precisely what is happening on our farms.”
Mr Chestnutt said getting the green light from DoF is “extremely positive”.
“The project was initiated by an expert working group led by John Gilliland that was largely made up of farmers and environmentalists who have been working on it for almost seven years,” he continued.
“When we work together as an industry we can deliver, and we look forward to seeing this scheme rolled out across the country.
“There are many challenges ahead but with the information that this scheme can give, we can provide for the environment while producing high quality local food.”
The pilot scheme found the positive action taken on farms resulted in environmental improvements and reduced input costs early on – a win-win for farmers and the environment. Mr Chestnutt added: “There are various environmental benefits to this scheme, and it’s vital in our journey to reduce emissions, increase carbon sequestration, improve biodiversity and tackle water quality.
“Farmers are willing to play their part in addressing our environmental challenges and this scheme will help by providing detailed information on soil nutrient levels for their land and an estimate of the quantity of carbon stored in their soils, hedgerows and trees.
“All of which will be backed by advice and training. “To date, NI farmers have been wrongly accused by some of lagging behind - the soil health scheme announcement proves that this is not the case.
“We look forward to leading the way in this area and playing our part in the journey towards UK net zero based on credible expert advice and a science-based approach.”
Chairman of the Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Strategy Expert Group, John Gilliland, commented: “On behalf of the Expert Working Group, I am delighted in the leadership Minister Poots and his DAERA team have shown by announcing this scheme today.
“This scheme is based on sound science and will bring real transparency to our journey as farmers in delivering the breadth of sustainability, including, vitally, economic sustainability of our farm businesses.
“I want to thank the minister and his team for this announcement, as this scheme will empower us to make better quality management decisions on our farm and to communicate our unique progress in NI to all our consumers and wider concerned citizens in a more authentic manner.”