The Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr Charlie McConalogue T.D., and Ms Pippa Hackett, T.D., launched a major investment of €10 million in a pilot Soil Sampling and Analysis Programme this week. This programme is aimed at putting soil carbon, soil health and fertility at the very centre of the future agricultural model.
Soil can be defined as a living (always changing) mixture of organic and mineral solid material, gases, and water. The ideal soil composition is 50% solids (organic and mineral) and 50% pore space that is filled with both gases and water. Soil is a medium in which life is sustained through plant growth, the recycling of matter and nutrients, and the purification and cycling of water. Soil can act as a sponge to purify water, and thus plays an important role in water quality. However, soil is fragile and improper management can, in some agricultural fields, lead to a loss of nutrients and sediment that can negatively impact on water quality.
Soils, therefore play an important role in meeting water, climate and biodiversity targets of both the CAP and Green Deal. This sampling programme aims to provide farmers with the critical information to make farm management decisions from improving nutrient use efficiency to soil carbon levels in 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 should realise the potential of managing soils on Irish farms.
Along with soil fertility and soil pathogen assessment, the programme will measure baseline soil carbon levels which will guide future actions to support carbon farming. It will also 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. The objective is to generate a national baseline on soil across Irish farms.
This investment builds on a recent investment of €2 million in a National Soil carbon observatory, a significant research project to better understand carbon in soils.
This programme should assist in the integration of environmental policies and objectives across water, soil, air and climate change and their alignment with the overall objectives of policy such as the EU Green Deal and the new agri-food strategy. Having baseline data on the physical, chemical, and biological status of soils at farm level is a critical stepping stone to informing actions to deliver on environmental objectives.
The programme will be open for applicants on Monday 27th September and full details are available at Pilot Soil Sampling Programme
Soil sampling is to begin in October and is limited to 16 samples per farm.