The number of queries received by the Irish Farmers Journal surrounding the progress of soil sampling under the Department of Agriculture’s new soil sampling pilot programme has increased sharply over the last two weeks.

The queries mainly relate to farmers trying to ascertain if there is a way of finding out when samples will be taken, with pressure building to apply organic manures and chemical fertiliser.

We put a range of questions to the Department and the answers to these are detailed below.

Q&A with the Deaprtment

Can we get an update on how many samples have been taken to date and a timeline for remaining samples to be taken?

The contract for soil sampling and analysis under the pilot soil sampling programme was awarded to a consortium led by Cawood Scientific Limited.

Under that service contract, soil samples are subject to a broad range of analysis including carbon, micronutrient, and E coli status in addition to the standard Irish soil test suite of analysis covering soil pH, lime requirement, phosphorus and potassium status. Such comprehensive analysis has never been undertaken in Ireland before.

Given the numbers of samples involved, this is also a very ambitious pilot.

In addition to providing farmers with valuable information about their soils, as part of the programme, analytical data will be fed back into DAFM to build baseline data at national level.

The service provider has advised DAFM that by 28 January, over 1,600 farms had been sampled under the programme, with almost 21,000 sample being taken.

Sampling activity is increasing, with the service provider confirming over 4,200 samples taken across 327 farms in the week to 28 January.

The service provider has recruited and trained additional soil samplers and it is expected that sampling activity will increase further. Sampling will continue over the coming weeks.

I got notification in December that I was accepted to the soil sampling pilot, but have heard nothing since then. I will need to apply slurry next week – is there any way I can find out the status of my application and if samples will be taken before then?

Sampling is taking place across all counties. The service provider is managing the list of farmers approved for sampling. They are contacting each farmer prior to sampling.

If a farmer has applied slurry or fertiliser (other than straight nitrogen), they should advise the person who will be taking the samples when they make contact to arrange sampling.

In accordance with normal soil sampling requirements, land that has recently received P, K, lime or slurry should not be sampled. However, it may still be possible to sample other fields on the farm.

For approved participants, the programme covers a maximum of 64ha on each farm. Depending on farm size, it may still be possible to have the maximum area of 64ha sampled under the programme while applying slurry/P or K to the remainder of the farm.

For farmers sampled to 28/01/22, on average of over 80% of each farm was sampled.

On a weekly basis, this figure has held reasonably constant since sampling commenced late last year.

As sampling continues over the coming weeks, DAFM and the service provider will monitor this figure to identify trends in the area of land available for sampling at farm level.

As set out in the letters of approval, the approved participant’s soils sampling contract with the Department runs to 31/12/22.

Farmers who can’t have their land sampled in the spring will have a further opportunity to have their land sampled in the autumn if they wish.

I have been accepted into the soil sampling pilot, but had to apply slurry last week to 40% of my ground. This ground is now presumably not suitable for sampling. Will samples be taken on the remaining 60% of ground or will applying slurry compound fertiliser render my application void?

See above.

I have heard that the timeline from sampling to receiving the results of soil sampling is in the region of six weeks. Is this the case as I want to purchase fertiliser and may go ahead myself and sample some of the ground to identify what type of fertiliser I need to purchase?

Soil sample results will issue from the service provider as they become available. In general, farmers are most interested in the results for the standard soil pH, lime requirement, phosphorus and potassium status.

These results will issue first, with the results for soil carbon, micronutrient and E coli status then following later.

The Department recognises that some farmers may wish to proceed and organise their own soil sampling in line with normal practice.

If I withdraw from the soil sampling pilot now, as I want to apply slurry and fertiliser, can I apply again in a subsequent tranche?

Yes, however please refer to Response 2 above (approval remains valid until 31/12/22).