A new €10m soil sampling programme is to begin in September, aimed at putting soil carbon, soil health and fertility at the very centre of the country’s future agricultural model.
Farmers who take part will receive comprehensive soil analysis reports, with next-generation data which, with advisory support, will be used as a soil management tool on farms.
Farmers will not receive a payment for taking part.
However, the Department said the soil sampling programme, at field scale, 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.
“There is a limit on the number of samples that can be taken per participating farm of 16 samples, the equivalent of 64ha.
“This limit is in place to ensure maximum uptake in terms of geographic region and farming system across the country,” the Department said.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said farmers know that a healthy soil is the basis for all farming, be it livestock, tillage or horticulture.
“Detailed knowledge about soils on our farms will increase economic and environmental sustainability,” he said, adding that the programme will establish national baseline information on soils across Irish farms.
“In addition to soil fertility and soil pathogen assessment, the programme will measure baseline soil carbon levels, which will guide future actions to support carbon farming,” he said.
The programme is to develop a baseline national data set at farm level for these parameters:
The pilot programme is proposed to be tendered externally for delivery by a laboratory and/or consortium of laboratories through the formal EU procurement (e-tenders) protocol.
The Department will administer the application process plus the rank and selection requirements for the programme.
It is planned that a successful tenderer will be in place by mid-July 2021, with the soil sampling commencing from September 2021.
CAP and Green Deal
The Department has said soils will play an important role in meeting Ireland’s water, air, climate and biodiversity targets of both the CAP and Green Deal.
“This sampling programme will provide the farmer with the critical information to make farm management decisions from improving nutrient use efficiency to soil carbon levels in our soils.
"Advisors will be up-skilled to assist farmers in translating the results of the programme into meaningful guidance for farmers.
"In this way, the pilot programme will realise the potential of managing soils on Irish farms,” it said.
Minister Pippa Hackett with responsibility for land use and biodiversity said: “Soil health is vital for our very existence, and the more we know about it, the better informed we are to make the decisions necessary to preserve and regenerate it.”
Minister Martin Heydon, who has responsibility for research and development, added that the investment builds on the recent investment of €2m in a national soil carbon observatory.