Following last week’s Back British Farming Day, Defra’s announcements to changes to SFI payments have been welcomed, but the NFU has warned that it’s still not enough.
The NFU called on the government to do more to support farmers in the current climate and with the delays and problem caused by the move to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), but NFU president, Minette Batters, warned that, whilst Defra has announced changes to payment schedules, the challenges being faced are not over for farmers.
She said: “We have heard a number of welcome announcements this week, and credit where it’s due, farmers will be pleased government has listened to them. But the backdrop to these pieces of good news is that many farmers continue to face a bleak end to the year, with money they were promised, and rely on, not coming.
“While we have been working hard to prepare for changes to the essential support schemes that support farming and environmental management, delays in the rollout of the new scheme, coupled with reductions in the current scheme, mean most farmers have been unable to access the new SFI while facing significant holes in their finances from the withdrawal of BPS.”
Speaking at the NFU’s Back British Farming Day reception in Parliament this week, Defra Secretary of State Therese Coffey unveiled a number of new measures in areas the NFU has long campaigned on.
This includes support for a ‘Buy British’ button in online supermarkets, a new grant scheme for rooftop solar panels, confirmation that farmers enrolling in new environmental support schemes will be able to use them to meet public procurement standards, and a new £4m fund to help upgrade small abattoirs to improve animal welfare, business efficiency and productivity. Additionally, the Secretary of State recognised the issues with SFI, committing that those farmers able to sign up in October would be paid 25% of the money this year once their claims were agreed.
Mrs Batters said: “Today’s announcement will mean those farmers that are able to apply for SFI in October are being promised a percentage of their first payments before the end of the year.
“While this announcement will provide welcome progress, it doesn’t go far enough to deliver on the promises made countless times that the replacement to BPS would be open to all, less bureaucratic and offer a profitable and seamless transition from old to the new. What we have today, after years in the making, is still a million miles away.
“Under the current plans the SFI is open to the few and not the majority. The lack of budget transparency in Defra makes it almost impossible to know where the BPS money, initially earmarked for SFI in 2023-24, has gone. In the short-term, we need the government to bridge the gap it has created in taking away one set of payments before delivering access to their replacements by ensuring farm support payments made in December are not capped as currently planned.”