SFI grossly inadequate for upland farms, union says

The NFU uplands forum is calling for significant development of Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) to make it more practical and attractive to uplands farmers.

The current offer fails to provide a meaningful return for the costs of managing our most treasured upland landscapes, such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, the NFU said.

In a meeting with farm minister Victoria Prentis, representatives from the forum stressed that Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cash currently makes up a large proportion of upland incomes.

See also: SFI soil payment rates revealed but disappointment abounds

However, the planned reductions in direct payments and the absence of a meaningful SFI option for the uplands sector meant it was facing an income crisis.

The NFU estimates that the new SFI scheme currently only equates to about 10% of most upland farmers’ BPS payments.

NFU uplands forum chairman Thomas Binns said it was vital that the sector’s value is reflected in the SFI scheme by delivering meaningful benefits to both farmers and the environment.

To enable upland farmers to continue producing high-quality, climate friendly food and caring for our environment and landscapes, the forum is calling for:

  • Defra to provide a long-term vision for the future of uplands farming in Britain and to work collaboratively with uplands farmers to deliver a collective goal of sustainable food production alongside meaningful environmental benefits
  • The moorland and rough grazing standard to be added to with more options and additional levels that deliver value for money for both the public and hill farmers
  • Improvements to Countryside Stewardship, such as flexible start dates with opportunity for immediate transition from Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), and a review and update of HLS payment rates for the many farmers still involved in the scheme

NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw said the meeting with Ms Prentis was “absolutely crucial” and it was encouraging to see that she was listening to the NFU’s concerns. 

“The success of ELMs depends on all farmers being able to take part and be properly rewarded and it’s vital the government takes our recommendations on board to develop an SFI scheme where uplands farmers are confident in its viability,” he added.

“We will continue to work with Defra to ensure the scheme offers real value for money for both the public goods delivered and the farmers that deliver them.”

Futures markets and commodity risk management online course:

  • Risk management strategies for a more predictable financial performance
  • Educated conversations when collaborating with your advisors
  • Negotiate better prices with your grain merchants

View course

Futures markets and commodity risk management online course:

  • Risk management strategies for a more predictable financial performance
  • Educated conversations when collaborating with your advisors
  • Negotiate better prices with your grain merchants

View course

Using contractors saves you time and money. Now you can book, track and pay all in one place. Register for early access today.

Find out more

Explore more / Transition

This article forms part of Farmers Weekly’s Transition series, which looks at how farmers can make their businesses more financially and environmentally sustainable.

During the series we follow our group of 16 Transition Farmers through the challenges and opportunities as they seek to improve their farm businesses.

Transition is an independent editorial initiative supported by our UK-wide network of partners, who have made it possible to bring you this series.

Visit the Transition content hub to find out more.