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Abstract

Paradoxically, high rates of soil testing by Irish dairy farmers coexist with declining national soil fertility levels. This study investigates the anomaly further through identifying the characteristics of farms and farmers who regularly test soil in terms of policy, education, financial capacity, networks, and landmanagement practices. The study draws on data from a nationally representative sample of 231 specialist Irish dairy holdings. As policy mandates the use of soil tests for some farmers, a sub-sample of nonmandated farms is analysed separately. Findings comparing testers and non-testers show all farmers testing their soil on a regular basis are younger, have larger farms and herds, have larger gross output, have greater expenditure on nitrogen, and are more profitable, compared to farmers who do not. The analysis also shows nationally there is no significant difference in fertilizer and concentrate expenditure per hectare between soil test users and non-users, also reflected in the sub-sample. The logit regression analysis of the full sample suggests policy and extension programmes have a significant effect on adoption, however given national falling soil fertility trends farmers may not be using the results to achieve optimal outcomes. For the voluntary sub-sample farmers who attended part-time education courses and improved farmland through reseeding are more likely to regularly soil test. These findings are important in the context of the somewhat contradictory environmentally-focused and productivity-focused policy instruments that drive regular soil testing behaviour and the anomaly of high rates of soil testing with declining national soil fertility levels.

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