Farmers have “nothing to fear” from the new Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said.

The £45m soil sampling scheme is currently open to farmers who are located in zone one, which covers most of counties Down and Armagh.

In a letter to eligible farmers who are yet to apply, Minister Poots reiterated that soil analysis results “will not be used for regulatory purposes”.

The initial intake of applications in zone one was lower than expected and this led DAERA to extend the deadline until 31 August 2022.

However, Minister Poots said “the majority of farmers” in zone one have now registered.

The scheme will give participants details of the soil nutrient status of their land, as well as an estimate of overall carbon stocks on their farm.

A key point raised in his letter is that participation in the soil scheme is needed to claim new farm payments in NI. This includes the new area-based Farm Sustainability Payment, the headage based Beef Sustainability Payment and the Farming With Nature Package.

“These three new payments will be significant income steams for farmers and land managers, replacing the majority of support currently offered by the Basic Payment Scheme and the Environmental Farming Scheme,” Minister Poots said.

The letter appeared to prompt a significant response from farmers, with DAERA posting on social media earlier this week that a helpline set up for the scheme was “experiencing a large number of calls”.