Yesterday (Wednesday, March 20), the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) stated that soil sampling has entered its final weeks on the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS).

128,000 fields have been sampled in the SNHS during the 2023/24 sampling period. This makes a total of 261,000 fields sampled across zone one and two during the two years of the scheme to date.

The £37 million Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)-funded project is being delivered by the AFBI.

The project is open to all category one farm businesses in Northern Ireland, with a potential for up to 700,000 fields to be sampled by the end of the project in 2026.

The aim of the four-year scheme is to improve efficiency in the farming sector, while reducing environmental impact.

The SNHS project lead, Dr. Rachel Cassidy said:

“Sampling in zone two was expected to be challenging,due to generally wetter ground conditions in the west in winter, and mitigations were in place to deal with this.

“Any remaining unsampled fields which are not due to receive nutrient applications, will be rescheduled for sampling during April or May 2024. All other fields will be rescheduled for this autumn.”

Within four to six weeks of sampling, farmers will receive a soil nutrient report directly from NRM laboratories in the post.

This report will contain tables of results and recommendations based on their supplied crop information, including details of the nutrient, pH and soil organic matter levels in each field.

Once they receive their results, the next step for a farm business, is to complete the training element of SNHS which is delivered by College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE). 

The training will help farmers to gain a better understanding of their soil results and to develop a nutrient management plan.

AFBI is already making preparations for zone three of the scheme, which is due to open for registration in summer 2024, covering the north-west and the northern half of Co. Tyrone.

Eligible farmers will be contacted directly and invited to register their business.

Extension of chair

The Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Andrew Muir has announced the extension of Colin Coffey as chair of the AFBI board for a five-month period.

Coffey served as chair of the AFBI board for five years, over two terms, from 1 April 2019, until the current term which ends on March 31, 2024.

This appointment is in place while a public appointment process to appoint a new chair is being progressed. 

This decision has been made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments Code of Practice for ministerial appointments in Northern Ireland and the extended term will take effect from Monday, April 1.