Soil Nutrient Health Scheme provides a welcome insight for Castlewellan farmer

Date published: 14 December 2023

Area of Expertise:

John Milligan, a Co Down Farmer from Castlewellan is one of the first to benefit from the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) having participated in Zone 1, in the roll out of the innovative soil sampling scheme.

John Milligan, Castlewellan, Co Down at the AFBI/AgriSearch stand at the RUAS Winter Fair

Mr Milligan represents one of 6150 farms who were registered under Zone 1 of SNHS. John runs a beef and sheep livestock farm and explained why he thinks participation in the scheme is of great value to him and his business.

“You need to know your soil and for that reason I’ve been an advocate of soil testing over the years.  Having the soil analysis completed for me free of charge through SNHS was a ‘no-brainer’ as I’ve all the testing completed for me and the full analysis to refer to”.     

He added “The Scheme is there to be availed of and for local farmers to make use of and put into action.” 

The £37 million DAERA-funded project is being delivered by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and is open to all Category 1 farm businesses in Northern Ireland, with a potential for up to 700,000 fields to be sampled by the end of the project in 2026. The aim of the four-year scheme is to improve sustainability and efficiency in the farming sector. 

Sampling is currently underway in Zone 2 of the scheme covering Co Fermanagh, Co Armagh (West) and Southern Co Tyrone with 185,900 fields to be sampled. Farm businesses in the Zone 3 area will be invited to apply and benefit from all the scheme offers in summer 2024.

They will also be required to participate if they wish to receive future funding such as the new Farm Sustainability Payment, which can be a crucial income for farms.

Dr Rachel Cassidy, Scientific Lead at AFBI commented:

“The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme provides farmers with important information on soil nutrient and pH levels for each field on their farm. Farmers also receive maps showing areas at high risk of runoff and nutrient loss to watercourses and a first baseline estimate of the amount of carbon stored in their soils, hedgerows and trees. 

This information will help them more accurately match nutrient applications to crop needs, thereby increasing efficiency while also reducing the farm’s environmental footprint.”

To date over 6,000 farmers in Zone 1 have received soil analysis results for their farms, including pH, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sulphur, together with crop specific lime and fertiliser recommendations. Farmers can view all their results and farm maps online through the Government Gateway portal.

The next step for a farm business, once they receive their results, is to complete the training element of SNHS being delivered by CAFRE.  Completion of training is also a requirement for future farm payments.  The training is available online via the CAFRE website and will help farmers better understand their soil results and develop a nutrient management plan.

More information on the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme

Watch a video clip featuring John Milligan

T: 028 90255212  E:

Notes to editors: 

AFBI’s Vision is “Scientific excellence delivering impactful and sustainable outcomes for society, economy and the natural environment”.

AFBI’s Purpose is “To deliver trusted, independent research, statutory and surveillance science and expert advice that addresses local and global challenges, informs government policy and industry decision making, and underpins a sustainable agri-food industry and the natural and marine environments”.

AFBI’s core areas:

  • Leading improvements in the agri-food industry to enhance its sustainability.
  • Protecting animal, plant and human health.
  • Enhancing the natural and marine environment.


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