An accelerated payment for farmers with a live SFI agreement before the end of the year has been confirmed by Defra.
The government has said this decision is in recognition of the challenges faced by farm businesses with inflation and rising costs. The ‘new and improved’ Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023, which has 23 actions on offer for farmers, is currently accepting expressions of interest and will start accepting applications from September 18.
Last week, the NFU called on ministers to take action to support farmers in the lead up to Christmas. Ministers had committed that SFI 2023 would be open in August, with payments coming in December. But it will now only be partially open from next week and it takes some months between a farmer being accepted on to the scheme and payment being made, the NFU said.
It said payments farmers were relying on will not come this year and will come to only a handful of farmers in the early part of 2024.
It called on ministers to halt any further reduction in existing farm payments – due to fall by another £720m this year alone – until delivery problems with SFI are resolved. While Defra has fallen short of this, it has taken a partial step to speed up payments, although it us unclear how many farmers will benefit.
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association said: “This meaningful package of support will provide further reassurance to farmers concerned about their cash flow, and will give confidence that the Sustainable Farming Incentive is worth entering into.”
Back British Farming
On ‘Back British Farming Day’ today, Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey also backed calls for industry-led action to signpost customers to ‘buy British’ when they shop online. She said she will support campaigns to endorse the taste and quality of home-grown meat and dairy products.
The government has confirmed that farmers producing sustainable British food under the environmental land management schemes will be able to use them to help meet public procurement standards, benefiting our British farmers and allowing the public sector to benefit from more excellent British food.
Ms Coffey said: “Today’s announcements are acting on commitments made at the Farm to Fork Summit and driving forward our new farming schemes to deliver a profitable and sustainable food and farming sector that delivers for people and our planet now and into the future.”
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “I continue to do all I can to support British farmers and growers and our flexible new farming schemes and continued investment in technology and automation are already delivering positive outcomes for domestic food production and the environment.
“With another record year for Countryside Stewardship, it’s great to see so many farmers signing up and getting involved. I will continue to work closely with the sector to take on board feedback to ensure our schemes work in the best possible way so farmers can run profitable and sustainable businesses into the future”.