Growing SFI uptake with almost 14,000 agreements in place

More farmers in England have signed up to environmental schemes, with 13,900 Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023 agreements now in place.

This figure represents a significant increase on the number of agreements in 2022, but is still a fairly small proportion of farmers overall.

About 34,900 Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements and 6,200 Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements have also been confirmed.

Defra figures show that more than 20,000 farm businesses have applied to SFI in total.

See also: Defra minister vows to improve SFI offer for tenant farmers

A Defra blog stated that farmers would receive their first payment four months after an agreement starts, and then would be paid every three months to provide a “regular, reliable income”.

Almost two-thirds of the SFI 2023 agreements in place include a nutrient management plan, while 62% include an integrated pest management plan.

But despite the growth in uptake of the scheme, the NFU is calling for a halt in the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to ease the immediate pressure on cashflow. 

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said: “While the Environmental Land Management [ELM] scheme and the SFI have now passed the 20,000 applications, that’s still only a quarter of farm businesses and there will be three-quarters of farm businesses that haven’t been able to replace their BPS in any way.

“The headwinds have changed significantly since the wheels were put in motion for the ELM policy in terms of the huge volatility we’re seeing, the geopolitical situation, the realities of climate change, food production rising up the political agenda. So, in the short term we’re looking for a pause in the BPS phase out.”

Mr Bradshaw added: “In the longer term, the risk is being carried by the farmer and what that BPS support used to do was mitigate some of that risk. Now, it is not there to build that resilience within the farm business.”

Jack Watts, head of economics strategy at AHDB, said: “There can be no doubt that the uptake of CS and SFI are significant in terms of the number of farm businesses taking part and the amount of farmland participating.

“There will be some debate about whether uptake is sufficient or not given that the reductions in direct payments allow for the creation of the ‘new’ SFI approach.”

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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.

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