The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is urging all eligible farmers to apply for the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) without delay.

Farming businesses in ‘zone one’ of the scheme (Down/Armagh) will have received a letter from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), regarding the operation of the new measure.

Being part of the scheme will be a requirement for future agriculture support payments and it is vital that zone one farmers who have been contacted apply before the deadline date of July 8, 2022, otherwise they may not be eligible for payment from 2024.

Soil Nutrient Health Scheme

The scheme, which is being delivered by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), is being rolled out in stages using a zonal approach over the next four years and farmers from other zones will be contacted to apply at a later date.

The data retrieved from SNHS will provide farmers with vital information on soil nutrient levels for each field on their farm as well as an estimate of the amount of carbon stored in their soils, hedgerows, and trees.

The UFU said that it has been reassured by DAERA that it will not use the information from the scheme to regulate farmers, and this is confirmed in the correspondence that has been sent to farmers.

Northern Ireland is setting a high global standard as the first region to establish an extensive baseline of all farms on soil nutrients, below and above ground carbon stocks.

The scheme will help to improve water quality and the progression towards climate change targets adopting a science-led, evidence-based approach.

According to ARCZero chairman, Prof. John Gilliland, the new soil testing programme will provide every farmer in the province with the opportunity to have the carbon status of their soils accurately assessed.

“The soil testing programme will include a representative carbon analysis of the soils that predominate across Northern Ireland,” he explained.

“In turn, this will help farmers establish the baseline carbon value from which they determine how best to manage their business as they commit to securing a carbon net-zero position.”

Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chairman, Gerard McGivern has welcomed the launch of SNHS.

He commented: “Northern Ireland will be taking the lead in a truly international sense when it comes to determining the true carbon sequestration potential of our farmland.

“The information gathered will also be used to allow all farmers make use of the slurries, manures and chemical fertiliser they need to produce food in the most efficient way possible.”