NI farmers encouraged to sign up to Soil Nutrient Health Scheme

The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme is open for NI farmers in zone one, with the data set to provide vital information on soil nutrient levels
The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme is open for NI farmers in zone one, with the data set to provide vital information on soil nutrient levels

Northern Irish farmers located in zone one of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme have been urged to apply before the 31 August deadline.

The objective of the scheme is to test all, or the vast majority, of the 700,000 fields used for farming in Northern Ireland, in order to help farmers manage their nutrient applications.

If farmers in zone one do not register, they will fall short of the eligibility criteria which must be met to receive future agriculture support payments.

These include the Farm Sustainability Payment, Beef Sustainability Scheme and Farming With Nature Scheme.

The three new payments will be significant income streams for farmers going forward, replacing the majority of support currently offered by the BPS.

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) deputy president William Irvine, who lives in Co Armagh within the zone one area, said he had applied for the scheme.

“When I first received a letter inviting me to register for the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, I had no hesitation," he explained.

"The wealth of information that is to be gained on soil nutrient levels for each field on our farm as well as an estimate of the amount of carbon stored in soils, hedgerows, and trees, will be invaluable to us as a farm business.

"Like all NI farmers, I too am working to manage the high cost of fertiliser, and soil testing and analysis is more essential than ever to ensure valuable nutrients are targeted where needed to save money and help the environment.”

The scheme, 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.

It will see NI setting a high standard as the first region to establish an extensive baseline of all farms on soil nutrients, below and above ground carbon stocks, helping to improve water quality and the progression towards climate change targets.

According to the NI Department of Agriculture (DAERA), 74% of eligible fields in zone one are now signed up to the scheme.

Mr Irvine said DAERA minister Edwin Poots had given the industry reassurances that the information from this scheme would not be used for regulatory purposes.

“We are also worried that many farmers may not have realised that participation in the scheme is a requirement for receiving future payments from DAERA," he added.

"They could find themselves at a considerable disadvantage in the future if they fail to act now. I encourage all farmers in zone one to make it a priority to register."

Farmers in zone one can register to the scheme by logging on to DAERA's online services website. The deadline is 31 August.