Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture is working on plans to launch a £37 million five-year soil sampling scheme to improve soil fertility and nutrient use.

The proposed NI-wide soil nutrient health scheme aims to provide farmers with the nutrient status of their fields, to assist them to make best practice decisions on nutrient requirements.

It's expected a baseline on Northern Ireland soil status could also then be used for spatial nutrient management planning and to inform the development and implementation of future agri-support schemes.

It comes as just two months after Northern Ireland's draft new Basin Management Plan proposed setting key target measures to crack down on water quality issues resulting from chemicals and pesticides.

Proposed soil health scheme

During Minister's Questions, Edwin Poots told MLAs that officials were currently working on the business case for the soil health scheme proposals, adding that he hoped to "move ahead with that as quickly as possible".

"I hope to be able to start that either later in this financial year or certainly in the next financial year," he said.

"A Northern Ireland wide programme could provide the government with invaluable baseline information for prioritising future interventions.

"Collectively, the pilots constituted a publicly funded intervention of £2.26 million, in which 1,613 farms, with fields spanning over 49,711ha, had soil samples collected and analysed.

"The results from the piloting approach are helping to inform future direction and policy development in relation to soil health and future farm-support measures."