By the end of March, a total of 133,000 fields had been sampled in Zone 1 of the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS), leaving approximately 17,000 fields still to be assessed, a spokesperson from the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has confirmed.

Initially covering Co Down and parts of Antrim and Armagh, the £45m scheme is managed by AFBI, with sampling sub-contracted out to the RPS Group.

The second of four zones, which is made up of Fermanagh, south Tyrone and west Armagh is to be sampled this coming winter.

Slurry season

Back in January 2023, AFBI acknowledged that it would not be possible to get all registered fields in Zone 1 sampled before the slurry season kicked off on 1 February, with only around 80,000 fields completed by this date. The delay was due to a number of factors, including “the unsuitable weather conditions for soil sampling encountered in December 2022”.

In their latest update, AFBI confirmed that out of the 17,000 fields still not sampled, around 10,000 had been visited by RPS Group staff, but could not be assessed for reasons such as flooding, stock in fields, slurry/fertiliser applied, etc.

“If a field had been slurried or fertilised before sampling could take place, it will roll over into sampling for the 2023/2024 season. The remaining 7,000 fields are mainly uplands and will be sampled over the next few weeks,” confirmed the AFBI spokesperson.

Incoming winter

Looking ahead to this winter – when the scheme is moving into potentially more difficult terrain further west – the spokesperson maintained that RPS will be able to “tackle the Zone 2 fields at pace much earlier” due to now having a core sampling team in place.

“RPS are going to put more of an emphasis on recruiting staff from the agricultural community for Zone 2, as they have proven to be among the most capable staff during the current sampling campaign,” the spokesperson added.

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