Farming could be transformed by groundbreaking soil survey
First national survey since 1958 will digitally map soil quality and nutrient issues
NUTRIENT management practices on Irish farms could be transformed over the next decade by a groundbreaking national survey of Irish soils.
The initiative aims to build a national database of Irish soils which sets out available nutrients and trace element levels, as well as classifying soils in terms of drainage class, and publishing the data in user-friendly digital online maps.
The programme called Terra Soil, which is being undertaken by the Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and Teagasc, and is the first national survey of Irish soils since 1958, involves the analysis of some 10,000 soil samples, which will be checked for available nutrients, metals and trace elements, as well as examining soil texture and type. The five-year project builds on the work of the GSI’s award-winning Tellus Programme which is mapping the country geologically. This has been under way since 2011 and is 50pc complete.
Dr Karen Daly of Teagasc explained that the Terra Soil programme will follow a similar approach to the GSI’s work by mapping the country on a 4km grid basis.
A series of digital online maps for each grid area will be produced by the project team outlining the availability of various nutrients and vital trace elements, as well as the soil type and its drainage class.
These maps will be supplemented by an easy-touse data viewer for each of the maps, Dr Daly added. All outputs form the programme will be freely available to farmers on the internet.
A key expected output of the €1m project will be an available phosphorus dataset, which combined with existing Tellus data on soil metals, pH and organic matter content, will provide a unique and worldclass database for agronomy in Ireland.
This new data will enable farmers to make more targeted and science-based decisions on fertiliser usage and lime requirements, which will result in less environmental impacts and less wasted resources.
Explaining that as extensive a study had not been undertaken in any other country, Dr Daly said the programme offered real benefits in terms of animal health and crop health for farmers, as well as informing the drainage needs of lands.
She pointed out that information on the availability of nutrients such as phosphorous and potassium, as well as trace elements such as copper, selenium and magnesium, had obvious benefits for livestock and tillage farmers.
At the launch of the Terra Soil programme, Minister of State for Natural Resources Seán Kyne described the survey as “a project of national importance”.
“Soil is a critical natural resource which underpins our agri-food sector and this work will enable its improved assessment and management, while also ensuring its potential for sustainable use is maximised within the sector,” Minister Kyne said.
Dr Frank O’Mara, Director of Research with Teagasc, said Terra Soil will greatly benefit the farmers by enabling them to make better informed decisions, which could “positively impact crop yield, land fertility, the environment and farming costs.”