When I was at school, it was vitally important that along with my cronies, we occupied the seats at the very back of the classroom.

It was some sort of bizarre pecking order thing I suppose, with anyone deliberately sitting up near the teacher being fair game for a spot of good old-fashioned bullying. Bad behaviour and lack of attention were almost desirable traits for the lads, and as a result most of our exam results reflected this wayward attitude to education.

Strange then that the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) has triggered some sort of hidden swot from within the depths of my ageing brain, and I seem to have turned into a grovelling, crawling teacher’s pet.

In the past few weeks, I have completed both training modules, downloaded the two certificates, and completed a farm nutrient management plan. Even more shamefully, I must admit that I quite enjoyed the whole experience, which is maybe just as well since I fear there will be many more of these box-ticking exercises over the coming years.


I decided to try the online training, and if it was too difficult to follow, then I could switch to one of the face-to face training sessions.

In truth, I needn’t have worried because both courses have been exceptionally well designed, and probably aimed at a certain age of farmer who may have very basic computer skills.

The series of videos are dead easy to follow, and if (when) you fall asleep you can either go back or simply log out and pick up again another evening.

Session one is a few hours long, and I’m not sure my attention span would have been long enough to absorb half the information in one meeting. The lovely thing about sitting in front of your own computer is that as soon as you realise you’ve started to wane, you simply stop and come back another night. I finished session one in three evenings, and it took two evenings for session two.

For anyone regularly soil testing, there may not be a lot of new information in the first module.

It is all about interpreting your soil analysis, but do not think this means you can fast forward through a couple of hours and collect your certificate at the end.

No, they’ve been far too clever for that, and you must watch each training video right to the end. In addition, each section must be finished, and a short quiz completed (good fun actually) before heading on to the next bit.

Obviously, there is also a heavy emphasis concerning carbon and I probably did learn something from this aspect of the training, although for me it remains a complicated subject.

For instance, there is general recommendation for increased organic material application to enhance soil carbon storage, yet fields with a high index for phosphate (most of my farm, then) are likely to be oversupplied.

Since this is considered bad farming practice nowadays, it strikes me that perhaps the training is more aimed at land that is deficient in certain nutrients?

Nutrient plan

The second training part centres on instructions for carrying out a farm nutrient management plan.

This series of videos really did take me by the hand and repeatedly showed examples of how to fill in details for individual fields.

Once you negotiate your way onto the DAERA website, the online crop nutrient calculator is really quite easy to follow.

Each field is pre-populated with the SNHS analysis and by entering the proposed fertiliser and organic manure you intend to apply, an instant result is posted.

This highlights how far short (or excessive) your intended amounts are and if any nutrient is in oversupply, then planned fertilisers and slurries can be altered accordingly.

If there was one overarching point to be taken for this farm, it would be just how far I’m below the upper recommended limit for nitrogen on my grazing land.

Being a medium stocked grazer of cattle and sheep, it seems I could carry far more stock without breaching the upper recommended limits.

However, given the weather we’ve had for the last year, I suspect that would have turned into a disastrous nightmare.

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