Dr Noel Culliton, the head of this programme, denied that this was a shotgun marriage of convenience to accommodate Teagasc cutbacks.
"There is a logic to the coupling of soils, crops and the environment. Soil and soil nutrients have become a huge issue in the light of environment legislation, most of which is coming at us from Brussels. When negotiating with EU officials on environmental issues for Irish farmers, we must have scientific facts to back our stance," said Noel.
"Even if there wasn't legislation, it makes sense to get the most efficient use of fertilisers and other soil inputs.
"In Johnstown Castle, we now have scientists working on hydrology (soil drainage) and on pedology (soil compaction). We have set out to complete the National Soil Survey. This time we will use satellite imagery supported by field visits to carry out the task."
Also at Johnstown Castle, they are working on a soil test that will predict nitrogen availability, thus indicating what sort of season-long top-up is needed. Dr Culliton believes this would give a huge boost to fertiliser efficiency.
Over the past decade, Irish farmers have reduced nitrogen use by almost 20pc, but phosphate usage is down by a whopping 40pc. In Northern Ireland in 2008, nitrogen usage of 82kg/ha was the lowest since 1975.
This suggests that fertiliser is being used more efficiently, which is smart. But there are also signs that farmers have gone too far in cutting down on phosphates and that crop and silage yields are being hit.
"Phosphate is like oil, supply is running out. Soil samples over the past four years indicate that phosphate deficiency (Index 1) is on the increase. We should aim to keep our P level at Index 3. It's a good long-term investment," said Dr Culliton.
Six years ago, when controversy over the Nitrates Directive raged, Teagasc was caught with insufficient data on the problem and a restrictive regime was imposed on Ireland. In the interim there has been more research and measurement. Both have brought concessions in the Nitrates Directive, with some easing on phosphate application thrown in as well. Teagasc science also helped to get changes in nitrogen usage in malting barley.
The EU, being itself, continues to poke its nose into the minutiae of our soils, fertiliser and crops. Coming down the tracks, we have the soil organic nitrogen issue, we have the 'greening' element of the single farm payment, plus we have the issue of nitrous oxide emissions.
As a greenhouse gas, methane is regarded as 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, but nitrous oxide is deemed to be 320 times more damaging. The early research on nitrous oxide emissions suggests that they are higher from damp heavy soils and that CAN is more vulnerable than urea.
Dr Culliton is well aware that Teagasc must collect the facts to counter potentially damaging edicts from Europe, but he also sees the bigger agricultural challenge of feeding the burgeoning world population.
His research colleague John Spink reckons that crop yields on farms have reached a plateau despite the continued advances from plant breeders. He said that this was happening in other countries as well.
"Is this because soils are not properly managed? Is it plant nutrition? Or husbandry? Or a combination of all of these?" Mr Spink asked.
He added that, in theory, wheat is capable of yielding up to 25t/ha and oilseed rape 9t/ha -- over twice the levels our best farmers are achieving.
So, as we approach 2012, I would argue that the answer is still in the soil. But are we asking the right questions?