Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will open registration for the latest phase of its £37 million soil scheme on Monday, June 26.

The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) which is a four-year scheme running from 2022 to 2026, aims to “improve sustainability and efficiency in the farming sector”.

According to DAERA, this year (Zone 2) invites registrations from farm businesses across Fermanagh, the west of Co. Armagh and south Tyrone.

The scheme opened to farmers in Zone 1 in May 2022, the first zone compromised Co. Down and parts of counties Antrim and Armagh, which had a 91% uptake.

Soil Nutrient Health Scheme

Dave Foster, project lead and DAERA’s director of Natural Environment, said: “The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme will provide farmers with important information on soil nutrient levels, for each field on their farm.

“Farmers will also receive a baseline estimate of the amount of carbon stored in their soils, hedgerows and trees.”

Foster said that this information will “help them accurately match” nutrient applications to crop need, with plans to increase efficiency by reducing the excess run to watercourses and improving their economic and environmental sustainability.

He added: “It will also support them in contributing to the climate change agenda established under the Northern Ireland (NI) Climate Change Act.

“The scheme will be delivered by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) with 27,000 farms and up to 700,000 fields being sampled by the end of the project.”

DAERA’s data suggests that, to date, over 6,000 farmers in Zone 1 have received soil analysis results for their farms, including pH, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S), together with crop specific lime and fertiliser recommendations.

“We are strongly encouraging all farm businesses in the Zone 2 area to apply for the scheme and benefit from all it offers and also because they will be required to participate if they wish to receive future funding such as the new Farm Sustainability Payment which can be crucial income for farms,” Foster said.

Farmers will be able to view results online and will have access to mapping identifying areas within the farm which could be prone to nutrient run-off to watercourses.

The department has offered access to the College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) SNHS training, which it said “provides advice on the interpretation of the analysis reports, preparation of nutrient management plans and the role of carbon on farms”. 

DAERA plans to open Zone 3 in 2024/2025 which will cover the north-west, followed by the north-east covered by Zone 4 in 2025/2026.