Soil testing and nutrient management evaluation

Client:
Environment Agency
Start date:
September 2011
Completed:
December 2011

As part of its work to tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture, the Environment Agency, in partnership with the UK Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) and EBLEX (the beef and sheep levy board), ran a campaign offering free soil analysis to 4000 farmers.

The offer to farmers comprised: a free soil test with the results analysed and reported back, and events, a helpline and site visits all offering free nutrient management advice to farmers.

Brook Lyndhurst was commissioned by the Environment Agency to evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign as a means of affecting farmers’ nutrient management practices.

The evaluation took the following approach:

  • a postal survey of the 1000 farmers who took up the free soil test
  • 10 follow-up qualitative telephone interviews with farmers who responded to the survey
  • 20 telephone interviews with farmers who were offered a free soil test, but turned it down.

Overall, the research explored:

  • what farmers did and didn’t find useful about the campaign
  • whether participating in the offer has affected farmers’ attitudes and behaviours relating to nutrient management
  • what lessons can be learnt about the campaign to help inform the Environment Agency’s work going forward. 

The headline findings from the survey show that:

  • 96% scored the free soil test either 4 or 5 out of 5 for usefulness.
  • 95% of the sample reported that they were advised to adjust nutrient levels in at least some of their fields.
  • 95% said they will act on at least some of the advice received.
  • At 64%, nearly two-thirds reported that they have increased or intend to increase the frequency or extent of their soil testing.This was particularly true of farms over 50 hectares, farms with an arable component, and farms where soil testing was not already happening on a regular basis.
  • Since the campaign an additional 8% of farmers reported having adopted a nutrient management plan (a shift from 31% to 39% of the sample).
  • 96% of respondents said they would now recommend soil testing to a farming friend or acquaintance.

The full report can be downloaded from the link on the right.

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