The Department of Agriculture has issued the first round of approvals this week under the pilot Soil Sampling and Analysis Programme.

There will be further approvals issued in the coming weeks. This means that farmers who applied but did not receive approval this week may still be approved under the first tranche of the pilot programme.

The scheme was hugely popular, with over 15,500 applications received in a two-week application window.

The €10m budget allocated to the scheme in 2021 is not sufficient to cover all applications received, but another €15m was allocated under Budget 2022, meaning that a second tranche will be in operation in early 2022. Farmers who were not successful under tranche one will also receive confirmation of this in the coming weeks and will be able to reapply once the scheme reopens in 2022.

Inspection concern

There is a line included in the approval letters regarding possible inspections which has raised some concerns from farmers. The line states: “Your farm may be selected for an on-the-spot inspection of the Soil Sampling Programme under the Department’s monitoring and control arrangement during the period of the contract.”

The Department advises that there is no need for farmers to be concerned. Inspections are part of every scheme and in this instance, the inspection will be focused on ensuring the location recorded for soil samples by the person collecting the samples corresponds to the farmer’s land in question and that the appropriate number of samples has been collected.

Samples will be taken over a minimum of 4ha and limited to a maximum of 64ha on each farm, meaning there will be a maximum of 16 samples per farm potentially collected.

Baseline data

The programme will focus on three main areas:

  • Macro- and micronutrients for agronomic advice and water quality risk assessment.
  • Soil carbon (C) relating primarily to improving climate objectives and soil health.
  • Farm level E coli assessment.
  • Expanding further on these objectives, the terms and conditions of the pilot programme state it will provide the basis for the next generation of soil-specific nutrient management advice and underpin targeted fertiliser and organic manure applications (right nutrient type, right application rate, right time and right place) across all farming systems in Ireland.

    Farmers will also be provided with indicative soil carbon results for their land, which the Department states is an important baseline result on an individual and national level from a soil health and climate change perspective.

    On the farm level E coli assessment, the Department says that the presence of E coli will provide information and the basis for developing strategies to manage animal, human and environmental health on the farm.