More than 2,000 farmers have expressed interest in joining the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) pilot, Defra has announced.
Alongside the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes, the SFI will form the upcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) offering.
Farmers in England will be able to select from eight standards – such as an improved grassland standard or hedgerow standard – to be paid for promoting greener landscapes, cleaner air and water, and guarding against climate change and flooding.
Within each standard there are three levels for participants to choose from – introductory, intermediate and advanced.
Defra began accepting applications to the SFI pilot in March and 2,178 farmers responded before the deadline.
Based on this year’s BPS applications, there are more than 83,000 farm businesses in England, meaning an uptake rate of less than 3%.
The Tenant Farmers Association has reported that tenant farmers in particular are wary of the viability of the scheme, with so little detail yet available, especially on payment plans.
The low uptake from tenant farmers is concerning, as the pilot may not be able to fully test out the implications of the scheme for the tenanted sector, the organisation said.
How the pilot will work
Interest came from a diverse range of farms and regions in England, which will ensure good nationwide coverage when the pilot is implemented, according to Defra.
Successful candidates will be contacted by the end of May and will be asked to develop their applications from June, with the first pilot agreements starting from October 2021.
The pilot, which is being delivered by Defra and the Rural Payments Agency, aims to gather information from horticulture, dairy, pig, poultry and grazing livestock farms across the country.
Farmers will take part in a range of activities and provide feedback on their experiences to help ensure the scheme is tested, fully workable and user-friendly once it is fully rolled out from 2024, said Defra.
There will be more opportunities to participate in future phases of the pilot and farmers will be able to join the progressive roll-out of the early SFI scheme from 2022.
Farming minister Victoria Prentis said: “We want farmers to manage their businesses in a way that achieves profitable food production and the recovery of nature.
“We want to design our future policies in conjunction with farmers across England to ensure they are as straightforward and effective as possible.”
Further information on the Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes will be issued later this year.