It won’t have surprised many people when Defra announced delays to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
It was a move that has rightly angered farmers. The only way, as I see it, that these delays could be acceptable is to also delay the reduction of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
Call me naive, but I had been optimistic about the future of our agri-environmental schemes. At least until recently.
The concept of the SFI is great. The idea that farmers should be paid for delivery of environmental goods is far more justifiable than the area-based payments of the past. I don’t even disagree that BPS should be phased out, eventually.
The problem is that the design and the software behind the SFI should have been in place before the BPS began to be wound down. If that were the case, the smooth transition we were all promised could have happened.
My optimism had seen our family farm enter the 2022 version of the scheme, which has been prematurely terminated.
Had it been fully planned out from the start, contracts wouldn’t have had to be ended and trust could have been maintained. As it is, there is very little trust left.
At the time of writing, the new scheme is due to be available from 18 September, but who is to say that this date won’t slide further. It is becoming increasingly difficult to plan ahead.
For every month the rollout is delayed, we have another month of costs for all the things the SFI is designed to support.
There are miles of hedges and hectares of field margins that should be receiving financial benefits through the SFI by now, but instead we, the farmers, are incurring the costs of managing them.
Farmers this year are receiving about 50% of the direct payments they would have received a few years ago and this money is yet to be funnelled into the SFI. This begs the question, where has all the money gone?
As a minimum, the only fair solution I see is to maintain the current direct payment levels until the SFI is properly ready to be rolled out.