A farmer holds some soil in his hands. In the soil is an earthworm© Tim Scrivener

The 600 successful applicants to a free soil sampling service offered to livestock farmers in Northern Ireland (NI) must act fast or risk missing out after the scheme was inundated with applications.

The select few from almost 3,000 applications will be contacted in the next few days by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), which is delivering the scheme on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA).

Farmers then have 14 days to notify the AFBI of their acceptance or risk losing their place.

See also: How a focus on soil biology can improve livestock health

A DAERA spokesman said: “On receipt of an offer letter, successful applicants must check the field boundaries on the farm map enclosed with the notification letter, provide the supplementary information required and return this to AFBI by the deadline. 

“Applicants may be withdrawn from the scheme and the place reallocated if the information is not returned by the deadline.”

Disappointment

In response to demand, DAERA has made more testing available to farmers outside of the Upper Bann catchment area.

It said it recognised a large number of farmers would be disappointed, but said nutrient management planning training will also be provided for all interested farmers from early next year under the Farm Family Key Skills scheme.

Around 12% of the total number of eligible farmers applied for the scheme. UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson said: “We would urge DAERA to evaluate the scheme quickly and work towards securing the necessary funding to roll out a similar scheme in the future“.

“All farmers could then be offered soil sampling and analysis, which fits in well with the recommendations of the Sustainable Land Management Strategy,” he said.