Defra has told farmers it has made improvements to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) in response to concerns raised, ahead of the opening of the application process later in the summer. The ‘new and improved’ SFI will start accepting applications in a controlled rollout from August, the Government has confirmed today, offering farmers ‘additional actions and more flexibility to choose the actions they want to get paid for’. Under the scheme, farmers in England will get paid for taking actions that support food production and improve farm productivity and resilience, while also protecting and improving the environment.
The 23 actions on offer cover existing themes including soil health and moorland, as well as new actions on hedgerows, integrated pest management, nutrient management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips, and low-input grassland. Additional actions under SFI 2023 will help ensure there is an offer that is attractive and workable for all types of farms, Defra said.
The range of actions means farmers could be paid from £10 per 100m for managing one side of a hedgerow, plus a further £10/100m to maintain or establish hedgerow trees; £129 per hectare for multi-species cover crops; or £589 for a nutrient management review.
The government has also confirmed the SFI management payment will be applied to all land-based SFI actions, including moorland, and has updated the payment rate for low-input grassland actions to make the rates the same for upland and lowland areas.
For tenant farmers, along with other improvements made in response to Baroness Rock’s review, there are shorter agreement lengths that do not require landlord consent. The SFI 2023 offer makes a range of actions and payments more accessible to those on short-term agreements and includes a range of new actions not previously available in schemes.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “After listening to extensive feedback from farmers, we’ve done a huge amount to streamline and improve the Sustainable Farming Incentive, making it as simple and flexible as possible for farmers to engage with, apply for and embrace. We want farmers to be able to access a package that works best for them. The scheme will remain flexible to allow for the changing needs and requirements of both farmers and their markets to ensure the best outcomes for food production and the natural environment.”
SFI 2023: What’s on offer
- More than twice as many new SFI actions as originally planned
- A reliable income – payments are made every three months
- A management payment of £20 per hectare for the first 50 hectares to cover participation costs
- A payment to cover one on-farm vet visit each year to review the health and welfare of livestock
- The same payment rates for farms in upland and lowland areas
- An additional annual payment for common land of £6.15 per hectare for groups of two or more
- A full SFI 2023 handbook with confirmed payment rates and final details for each action
A simplified scheme
- The scheme is straightforward to apply for online – farmers will only be shown the options available to their farm
- SFI is less prescriptive than before, so farmers can choose their own combination of actions in a new ‘pick and mix’ structure
- There’s no minimum or maximum land area or hedgerow length, so farmers can choose how much land to cover with their SFI agreement
- SFI actions and Countryside Stewardship (CS) options can be combined in the same parcels, and on the same areas of land within parcels, if the land is eligible for both schemes and the actions are compatible.
Defra has published a new SFI Handbook giving farmers all the detail they need in a single document, including which SFI actions can be done on the same land as Countryside Stewardship (CS) options, Environmental Stewardship (ES) options, and other SFI standards and actions. It has also produced sector-specific guides.
Applications for SFI 2023 will start to be accepted through a controlled rollout beginning in August. During the initial rollout period, when farmers sign into the Rural Payments service they will either be able to apply online or to contact the Rural Payments Agency, who will arrange for them to start an application.
SFI 2022 has now closed for applications to enable a smooth transition to the 2023 offer.
NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “It’s encouraging that the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) for 2023 appears to be an improved, broader and more flexible offer, changes that the NFU has been asking for.
“Farmers and growers will need to take a close look at all the options being made available and consider how these can be applied on farm.
“We understand Defra intends to offer a ‘smooth transition’ for over 3000 farmers who joined the SFI22 scheme, which it is closing. We await the detail about what this transition will look like, but given their early commitment and the lessons learned, these farmers must be treated fairly and rewarded during the transition, should they wish to take up an SFI23 agreement.”
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said: “We are pleased to see further details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive offer for 2023, which includes a number of improvements.
“These changes show DEFRA is committed to responding to the feedback received from farmers on the ground, helping to ensure the scheme works for as many businesses as possible.”