Almost 3,000 livestock farmers in Northern Ireland have registered for the soil sampling and analysis scheme from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Some 600 of these farmers have been selected for the scheme, with successful applicants required to notify the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) of their acceptance within 14 days of being approved.

Failure to notify the AFBI may result in the offer being withdrawn, with a reserve list of farmers set aside in the event of any drop-outs from the initiative, which is aimed at helping farmers to improve soil profitability.

Although the scheme was open to applicants from across Northern Ireland, candidates from specific sub-catchments in the Upper Bann area were due to be prioritised in the event of oversubscription – with capacity set at 20,000 fields.

The scheme has been funded under the EU’s Exceptional Adjustment Aid (EAA) Package. It is restricted to livestock farmers and is supported by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) - as well as the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Co. Antrim.

A spokesman from DAERA said: “We recognise there will be disappointment for those who are not successful in the selection process, as a result of the scheme being oversubscribed.

“The scheme provision is constrained by the limited timeframe to take field samples to ensure accurate results and the EU EAA funding deadlines.

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 also consider the level of interest in the scheme, which represents around 12% of the total number of farmers.”

Successful applicants were asked to the check the field boundaries on the farm map enclosed with the notification letter; they must also provide the supplementary information to the AFBI within the specified deadline.

Unsuccessful applicants were reminded that additional support on nutrient management planning is available for business development group members, with training in this area due to be provided early next year under the Farm Family Key Skills scheme.

Northern Ireland secured about £4.1 million (€4.7 million) of the UK allocation of the EAA, which is the second highest proportion for the country.