Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is urging farmers to start sampling their soil now.

Only 18% of soils in the north are at optimum fertility for pH, Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K); so, sampling is essential to managing nutrients and soil fertility.

That’s according to the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), who says that soil analysis determines the fertility of your soils and helps you plan your manure and fertiliser use.

CAFRE points out that the period from October to February is the best time for soil-sampling. This is because soil should not be tested less than three months after the last application of lime, slurry or fertiliser.

This time limit is to ensure the most accurate results while sampling.

CAFRE points out that the optimum index for K is 2. Whilst in general, the optimum index for P is 2; for extensive grazing, a P index of 1 is adequate.

The Sustainable Land Management branch of CAFRE is advising farmers of the best method for sampling; in areas of similar use and soil type – up to 4ha in size – 20-25 cores should be taken.

However, it’s important to avoid troughs, gates, headlands, manure patches and areas where livestock shelter.

Remember, this will help you grow productive crops, save money on chemical fertiliser, improve and maintain soil fertility and help improve water quality.

After that, mix the cores in a bucket, and put 500g in a bag as a representative sample to be analysed.

Soil augers and sample bags are available from local DAERA offices, as well as instructions on how to take your samples.

After a sample has been sent in, DAERA will make a recommendation if required. If the chemical levels need a top up, it should be provided by slurry or farm manure; after that it should only be added to by the correct fertiliser at the correct balance.