NFU reiterates commitment to work with Defra on SFI, as scheme opens

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The Sustainable Farming Incentive has opened for applications in England. The scheme is available to all farmers who currently receive Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments, designed to be accessible, and will reward sustainable practices which support food production and benefit the environment.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is the first of three new environmental land management schemes being introduced under the Agricultural Transition Plan, the UK’s new system of farming now we are outside the EU which is designed in the best interests of English farmers. The schemes will ensure long-term food security by investing in the foundations of food production: healthy soil, water, and biodiverse ecosystems. Defra has worked with more than 4,000 farmers to test and trial the new approach.

Controlled rollout

Defra is opening the scheme in a controlled rollout from 30 June to manage the opening in a careful, measured way: for those with no other agri-environment agreements, they’ll be able to apply online straight away; for everyone else, they’ll be asked to let the Rural Payment Agency (RPA) know they want to apply and RPA will get in touch and support them to do so. This is to ensure everyone receives the right level of service and support during this initial phase of rollout.

The scheme will open with two soil standards recognising the importance of health soil for successful farming and the environment, and a Moorland standard where we will pay farmers to assess the condition of the Moorland as a basis for further action in future through our existing and new schemes.

This is the initial rollout of the scheme – which will be expanded over the next three years as Direct Payments are reduced. The full set of standards will be in place by 2025.

Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, said: “The Sustainable Farming Incentive is designed to be accessible and recognises the importance of domestic food production to our national resilience. Farmers will receive payment within three months of their agreements starting, and payment rates are more targeted and less prescriptive than previous EU schemes. We want to support farmers with the choices they take for their farms, and I urge them to apply.”

      Defra has taken a number of steps to make the scheme accessible to farmers by making it more straightforward to apply and simplifying the requirements, allowing farmers the flexibility to decide how best to achieve the standards set out in the scheme and how much of their land they want to put into SFI.

Farmers will receive their first payment three months after joining and will receive quarterly payments thereafter. There will also be no old-style application window, allowing farmers to enrol in the SFI scheme at any point in the year that is suitable for them.

NFU response

As the scheme opens, the NFU is encouraging farmers to review what is available for their farm business. It is also reiterating its commitment to work with Defra to improve the scheme to make it inclusive and viable for all farmers.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “Today is an important day for farmers in England as the first scheme of Defra’s new Environmental Land Management (ELM) programme is launched.

“Britain’s farmers are proud to produce high-quality, climate-friendly food for the nation, as well as delivering for the environment, and I would encourage all farmers to review the options that are available to them under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). There will be practical options available for many farms but it is for every farm business to decide what works for them. That factor alone will ultimately determine the success of the SFI.

Much more to do

“The NFU has been consistent in its view that there is much more to do to ensure this scheme is open to every farm business, for example tenant farmers, with viable options for all that couple sustainable food production with viable environmental measures. Our aim has always been for these new schemes to fairly reward farmers for those public goods and to continue and enhance this work.

“While today marks the start of this important rollout, the NFU remains committed to working with Defra to improve its ELM schemes. In particular, the NFU is arguing that Defra needs to offer farmers a net zero standard, which starts with soil and includes a consistent approach to measuring progress on farms, and that schemes need to ensure the viability of farming in our precious uplands.”

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