Sustainable Farming Incentive update announced

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Details of the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) available to farmers from July have been published by the government today.

The offer will be open to new entrants for the first time and will comprise of 102 actions, including over 20 new options to support sustainable food production.

Other options include payments for precision farming and agroforestry, a new and expanded offer for upland farmers, and more choice for tenants on short-term contracts.

See also: App to make waste recycling easier to launch at Cereals

Further new actions look to support flood preparedness, helping businesses be more resilient against the changing climate and weather conditions.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “I recognise that farmers have had to deal with difficult circumstances this year, which is why we have delivered on our commitment to provide further detail on the expanded SFI offer ahead of applications opening in July.

“The new expanded SFI offer gives farmers more choice, makes things easier and pays out more, so they can get on with the important job of producing high quality food in a sustainable way.”

The announcement comes following a support package for farmers unveiled at the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork Summit in Downing Street, and a commitment to maintain the £2.4b annual farming budget.

More than 50 simplified actions from Countryside Stewardship (CS) Mid-Tier will be merged into SFI, with some durations reducing from 5 to 3 years to align with tenant farmer needs.

The application window for CS Higher Tier, which provides grants to help farmers restore or enhance the environment, will open in the winter, with agreements starting in January 2025.

Alice Groom, head of sustainable land use policy at RSPB England called the new SFI offer “an important milestone”.

She added: “Whilst an expanded SFI offer is welcome, we are very concerned that timelines are slipping to get the new higher tier offer launched.

“This risks leaving farmers doing the most for nature at the back of the queue and insufficient progress on the actions that can make the most impact for nature’s recovery.”

She said that the ELM offer must get up and running to ensure it is capable of being “the real engine” of progress towards nature and climate targets.

NFU Deputy President David Exwood said it was “encouraging” to see SFI made broader and more flexible, and was glad to see hill farmers recognised for their role in food production.

But he urged Defra to supply more details soon to help those ending agreements, or anyone wanting to transfer from the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS).

“It is important now that Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) ensure that all these schemes have the resources needed to make delivery a success, with clear timelines for the application processes which will provide further clarity and allow our members to put together comprehensive agreements needed for their farming businesses,” Mr Exwood said.

He also stressed that the next government must look at the agricultural budget to ensure “farmers and growers can continue doing what they do best”.

A new digital tool has also been launched to signpost customers toward the funding that is available to them.

More actions are expected later in the year, including an educational access action announced in January’s Agricultural Transition Plan update.

To be one of the first farmers to access the expanded SFI offer, express interest here.

Applications will open to the wider sector, based on eligibility, on 22 July.

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