Soil sampling scheme letters due to go out to 600 farmers

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the news that farmers will receive notification in the coming days as to whether they have been successful in their application to the EAA funded soil sampling and analysis scheme.

Almost 3,000 livestock farmers are registered for the scheme. Approximately 600 have been successful in the selection process to date.

Successful applicants must notify the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) of their acceptance within 14 days of date of notification, otherwise any offer may be withdrawn. There will be a reserve list of farmers in the event of drop-out from the scheme.

UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson has urged successful applicants to check the details carefully and return the relevant information to AFBI by the deadline in their letter, if they do not do so the offer will be withdrawn.

“The scheme was vastly over-subscribed and it’s encouraging so many farmers wanted to be part of this programme,” he added.

“We would urge DAERA to evaluate the scheme quickly and work towards securing the necessary funding to roll out a similar scheme in the future. All farmers could then be offered soil sampling and analysis, which fits in well with the recommendations of the Sustainable Land Management Strategy,” he said.

Successful applicants should be notified by the end of this month, with the scheme beginning from this November to February 2018.

A DAERA spokesperson said: “On receipt of an offer letter, successful applicants must check the field boundaries on the farm map enclosed with the notification letter, provide the supplementary information required and return this to AFBI in the envelope provided by the deadline. Applicants may be withdrawn from the scheme and the place reallocated if the information is not returned by the deadline.”

Soil sample collection by AFBI, or their appointed contractor, is due to start in late November 2017.

The Scheme, which is funded by the EU’s Exceptional Adjustment Aid (EAA), is being delivered by AFBI on behalf of DAERA. Successful applicants will be offered a free soil sampling and analysis service, via the following components of the scheme:

- The ‘open scheme’ which is Northern Ireland wide;

- The ‘catchment scheme’ which targets specific priority sub catchments in the Upper Bann area.

The spokesperson continued: “Due to the number of applicants, AFBI has sought to increase the number of samples that can be collected in the open scheme, resulting in an additional 2,000 field samples being planned. In total 20,000 field samples are expected to be sampled over a 12 week period.

“We recognise that there will be disappointment for those who are not successful in the selection process as a result of the scheme being over-subscribed. The scheme provision is constrained by the limited timeframe to take field samples to ensure accurate results and the EU EAA funding deadlines.

“Farmers who were not successful in the selection process should note that additional support on nutrient management planning is currently available for Business Development Group Members. There will also be nutrient management planning training provided for all interested farmers from early next year under the Farm Family Key Skills scheme, funded under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.”

The spokesperson concluded: “This Scheme links closely with the Sustainable Agriculture Land Management Report published in October 2016. The EAA funding has provided an opportunity to pilot an approach to the recommendations on soil testing and the Department intends to evaluate the outcomes of the scheme in 2018. The evaluation will consider the level of interest in the scheme which represents around 12% of the total number of farmers.”

All farmers can also benefit from contract rates for soil testing analysis via their local DAERA Direct Office. Additionally, a range of commercial companies offer soil collection and analysis services.