TEN thousand fields are to be sampled in a new soil testing and training initiative being launched in the west of the Province by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).
Tomorrow (Friday) the new initiative will open to all farmers within designated sub-catchments in the Colebrooke and Strule river systems of Fermanagh and Tyrone (Figure 1).
It aims to build on the success of the EAA Soil Sampling and Analysis Scheme, which AFBI delivered in 2017/18, part of which was targeted at a group of sub-catchments in Upper Bann in the east of the Province.
The current target sub-catchments in Colebrook and Strule were chosen because of their westerly locations, their good spread of farming intensities, and the availability of water quality and field topographical data.
These data will assist AFBI in disentangling the factors influencing nutrient loss to water, and in identifying strategies for enhancing soil fertility and grass production, whilst simultaneously improving water quality.
Funded by the Department of Agriculture and supported by the Ulster Farmers Union and CAFRE, the initiative will open for online registration on July 6 and will remain open until noon on Friday, August 17.
To be eligible, farmers must have a DAERA Farm Business ID number and the land to be sampled must be within the designated areas. The initiative will be administered by AFBI and farmers can register and find additional information at www.afbini.gov.uk/colebrook-strule-soil-testing-and-training-initiative.
A maximum of 10,000 fields will be sampled in this initiative on a first-come-first-served basis and so early registration is recommended.
Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application within eight weeks of receipt of their registration.
All data will be held securely by AFBI, and will not be released in any form that would identify an individual farm.
By participating in the initiative, farmers will receive detailed information on their soils to help optimise nutrient management (ie, pH, P, K, Mg) in line with crop requirements.
Using this information will enable farmers to target the application of slurry, manure and chemical fertiliser more accurately.
In turn this will help to maximise grass and crop yields, improve soil fertility and increase farm profitability (for example, by reducing the need for expensive fertiliser nutrients in fields already well supplied with P or K), while also reducing the potential for negative impacts on water quality.
With all sampling undertaken by trained field teams and analysis carried out at fully accredited soil laboratories, the initiative guarantees a quality assessment of soil fertility to all participants.
Successful applicants will receive an invitation from CAFRE to attend two locally based training workshops during the initiative.
The training workshops aim to help successful applicants understand the valuable information their soil analysis reports contain on the nutrient status of their soils and how they can be used to:
n Plan lime, manure and chemical fertiliser applications;
n Produce high quality grass and forage crops;
n Improve and maintain soil fertility;
n Save money on chemical fertilisers;
n Improve water quality by reducing the risk of nutrient loss.
Training is a valuable component of the initiative and so it is important that successful applicants attend.