Taking a soil sample© Jason Bye

Livestock farmers in Northern Ireland (NI) are being offered free soil sampling and analysis by the government to help maximise crop yields and increase overall farm profitability.

The scheme, open to all registered livestock farmers in NI, will provide detailed information about the tested soils, such as pH level and nutrient requirements for nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

This will allow farmers the opportunity to optimise pH levels and apply slurry, manure and chemical fertiliser in line with crop need to maximise yield and increase farm profitability.

See also: Fresh funds made available to pig and dairy farms in NI

The Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), which is running the scheme on behalf of the department of agriculture, is offering the scheme in two components.

EU aid

All livestock farmers can apply for the first “Open Scheme”, while the AFBI will directly contact farmers in the Upper Bann catchment area to take part in a second “Catchment Scheme”.

The soil sampling service, part of a £4.1m EU aid package announced in November 2016 to help dairy and livestock farmers in NI, will sample up to 20,000 fields, split equally across the two components.

Farms in the catchment area will be prioritised if demand outweighs the scheme’s overall capacity.

Farmers have from today (1 June) until noon on 19 June to register, with successful applicants expected to be notified by 31 July before the testing is carried out from November 2017 to February 2018.

The Ulster Farmer’s Union welcomed the scheme. President Barclay Bell said: “The UFU is encouraging all farmers eligible for the scheme to register before the 19 June noon deadline to avail of the benefits this scheme is offering. Those in the targeted Catchment Scheme area will also receive further details directly from AFBI.”

Farmers wishing to apply must have a DAERA Farm Business ID number, and can register for the scheme by visiting the EU EAA Soil Sampling and Analysis Scheme website.