Farm­ing could be trans­formed by ground­break­ing soil sur­vey

First na­tional sur­vey since 1958 will dig­i­tally map soil qual­ity and nu­tri­ent is­sues

Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS - DE­CLAN O’BRIEN

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.”

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