All farmers in the first of four zones across NI should soon be in receipt of a letter from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) inviting them to participate in a new free soil nutrient health scheme.

In total, up to £45m has been earmarked for the initiative which aims to provide detailed information on the nutrient status of soils across NI.

In addition, farmers will receive maps showing the risk of nutrient run-off from individual fields, and estimates of the carbon both in their soils, and in trees and hedgerows.

The first zone to be sampled comprises Co Down, along with the eastern side of Armagh.

Soil samples are to be taken between November 2022 and February 2023, with the work subcontracted out to RPS Group, a global professional services firm, with a base in Belfast.

Zone 2, which is made up of the remainder of Armagh, South Tyrone and Co Fermanagh, is to be sampled in 2023-2024, followed by north Tyrone and much of Derry in 2024-2025, finishing with mainly Co Antrim in 2025-2026.


Despite the scheme providing a vital baseline on soil health and carbon status, there remains a core group of farmers unenthused about taking part.

These voices should not be ignored, and given the battle recently had with politicians over climate change targets, it is understandable that many farmers are now completely turned off by talk of carbon emissions.

There is also a fear among farmers of inspections, and a suspicion that DAERA might eventually use soil nutrient data to restrict where and when nutrients are spread in future.

Given that the Department has given a clear commitment that any soil data will not be used to enforce regulations, it is simply unthinkable that this could happen.

The other point to note is that DAERA has linked participation in the soil scheme to future farm support payments. Anyone thinking of ignoring the AFBI letter should carefully consider whether that would be wise for their business.

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