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UK: Free soil testing cuts farmers' costs and helps the environment

Reducing the amount of nutrients in rivers will improve the quality of the water, help tourism and benefit the North Wales economy

A free soil testing scheme which reduces farmers' costs as well as benefiting the environment is being rolled out across north Wales this autumn by Environment Agency Wales.

The simple test evaluates the pH level and the amount of nutrients already in the soil. These measurements indicate the quality of the soil and help the farmer to work out the amount and type of fertiliser the soil needs.

Using less fertiliser or slurry can significantly reduce costs to farmers whilst allowing them to produce more crops. This also encourages livestock to gain weight.

The scheme, now in its third successive year, is backed by both of Wales' farming unions.

Farmers can save money by changing the type of fetiliser they use

A survey of farmers in north Wales who took part in the scheme last year found that more than three-quarters [77 per cent] will save money by changing the type of fertiliser they use.

Some seven out of ten [71 per cent] farmers will apply lime to their land, which helps to correct soil acidity. Almost two-thirds [64 per cent] will use less phosphate fertiliser, reducing the risk of pollution. And more than two-fifths [44 per cent] will replace their artificial fertiliser with slurry, reducing their costs as a result.

The soil testing scheme is aimed at landowners with farms located next to rivers where the quality of the water is reduced. This could be due to nutrients from fertiliser being washed from agricultural land into the water.

Reducing the amount of nutrients in rivers or the sea will also improve the quality of the water, helping tourism and benefiting the North Wales economy.

Catchment areas for free soil tests

This year's scheme runs from 1 October until 31 December 2012 and includes farms in the following catchment areas:

Camddwr (Gwyddelwern)
Cegin (Pentir & Llandegai)
Clwyd (Pwllglas & Clawddnewydd)
Glanffyddion Cut (Rhuddlan & Dyserth)
Hiraethlyn (Eglwysbach)
Nug ( Cerrigydrudion)
Wen (Chwilog)
Goch ( City Dulas & Llandyfrydog, Anglesey)
Dolfechlas Brook (Rhosesmor)
Wheeler (Caerwys)
Bach (Tremeirchion)

For further information and to take part in this year's test please contact Environment Agency Wales on 01248 484173 by the end of September.

Nichola Taylor, Environment Agency Wales said:
"This free, simple test allows us to work out the precise pH and nutrient makeup of individual fields so that farmers can take informed decisions.

This means they can make the right choice about what's best for their land and livestock and reduce their costs.

We're working with famers across north Wales to find simple solutions that helps them and the industry and also creates a healthy environment."

Dafydd Jarrett NFU Cymru said:
"NFU Cymru are supportive of regular soil testing. Optimal grass and crop growth will only occur when soil nutrients are at the right level.

Over-application of nutrients can not only harm the environment but are financially wasteful. With fertiliser prices currently very high, this opportunity of a free independent soil test for pH, phosphate, potash and magnesium by Environment Agency Wales can only be beneficial to all."

Rhys Roberts, FUW said:
"Soil testing is important for farmers, particularly in these challenging times, when it is important to maximise crop yields whilst minimising the use of expensive fertilisers.

Knowing what nutrients are already available in the soil allows for greater precision in the use of fertilisers for optimising crop growth, which is a win-win situation for farmers and the wider environment. We would encourage farmers to make the most of this free soil testing scheme."