Although soil testing became a compulsory requirement when the Farming Rules for Water were introduced by Defra in 2018, a lack of recent soil testing is one of the top two breaches of the regulations.

Under the Farming Rules for Water, soil tests must be carried out on ‘cultivated agricultural land’ at least every 5 years.

The soil tests must include the pH of the soil and the levels of phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium present. Nitrogen levels may be determined by assessment of the soil nitrogen supply, rather than soil sampling and analysis.

The Environment Agency (EA) are responsible for enforcing the Farming Rules for Water and soil testing information is a vital piece of evidence an EA inspector will want to see during a farm inspection.

What are the regulations?

Regulation 5 of the Farming Rules for Water states that when planning an application under regulation 4(1)(a) to cultivated agricultural land, a land manager must ensure that the results of soil sampling and analysis are taken into account.

The results of the soil sampling must include the pH of the soil and the levels of phosphorus, potassium and magnesium present.

Must be no more than 5 years old at the time of the application and may have been collected before the date on which these Regulations come into force, including by another land manager.

Nitrogen levels may be determined by assessment of the soil nitrogen supply, rather than soil sampling and analysis.

Cultivated agricultural land definition

The definition of cultivated agricultural land under Rule 1 of the Farming Rules for Water (Planning the use of manures and fertilisers) falls into two distinct categories:

Land which has been cultivated by both physical means (including ploughing, sowing, or harvesting) at least once in the previous year.

Land which has been cultivated by chemical means (including the application of organic manures or manufactured fertiliser) at least once in the previous three years.

Any fields where either of the above are applicable are subject to needing soil tests completed.

Many arable fields have a routine soil testing schedule in place, which is usually once every 4 years. However, the requirement for carrying out soil testing on grassland is often overlooked, leaving documentation open for scrutiny and the farmer potentially in breach of regulations.

Why is getting your soil tested important?

Apart from the fact that it is a regulatory requirement, soil testing is good for your farming business. By having an accurate picture of the level of nutrients in your soil available, you can plan your use of nutrients more accurately, and only use what you need. This will save you time and money alongside having positive benefits on the environment.

If you include soil organic matter in the analysis, you will also meet the criteria for some of the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) options.

Farm inspections – what do EA officers want to know about your soil?

Firstly, that you have had soil testing carried out in the past 5 years and are able to provide evidence of that on cultivated land by the previously stated definition. Secondly, that the results are used to inform how you apply nutrients to your soil.

During a farm visit, farmers can expect to be asked to provide evidence of recent soils analysis and assessment for pH, N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorus), K (Potassium) and Mg (Magnesium) for the fields they cultivate. This is a legal requirement under the Farming Rules for Water legislation and meets the Code of Good Agricultural Practice.

Further help & advice

For further advice, or help with organising your soil tests, please contact the CXCS Agricultural Compliance team on 01981 590514.

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