Farmers do not need permission from DAERA to cultivate all fields that have been assigned an environmental code under the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS).

Farms in the southeast of NI were soil sampled under the £45m scheme during the winter and all other parts of NI are set to be covered over the next three years.

However, some SNHS participants have queried their soil analysis results after certain fields were labelled with an environmental code.

In particular, concerns have been raised about fields assigned the code “G” as the soil analysis reports indicate that these have been deemed “uncultivated land or semi-natural areas”.

Guidance on the reports state that “any operation designed to increase the agricultural productivity” of these fields will require consent from DAERA.

“Land is considered to be uncultivated land if it has not been subject to physical or chemical cultivation in the last 15 years,” the guidance reads.

The Irish Farmers Journal has been contacted by SNHS participants who have fields with the G environmental code, even though the land has been recently reseeded and regularly receives fertiliser.

On enquiry, a department spokesperson confirmed that the requirement to get consent from DAERA does not apply to all fields with the G code.

“If any fields, which have a history of regular cultivation and intensive use, appear with a G Code on the SNHS analysis report, those farmers should view the G Code as not being applicable to that field and therefore DAERA permission is not needed to continue to cultivate those fields,” the spokesperson said.

Uncultivated land

The department said the environmental codes were included in soil analysis reports to alert farmers that they may need to contact DAERA “to seek advice/permission” before acting on the recommendations in the report.

Some fields with the G code, which are truly uncultivated or semi-natural, will fall under Environmental Impact Assessment rules that require farmers to get consent from DAERA before “the use or management” of the land is altered.

“In these cases, the soil analysis reports use a Code G to highlight that these regulations may apply to some fields,” the DAERA spokesperson said.