Lucy Nott: We’re optimistic about Sustainable Farming Incentive

There’s a lot of hysteria in the media at present about farming subsidies and what the future might hold.

Now, I completely understand the concept of click-bait and scroll-stopping headlines, but there have been some overly generalised and misleading headlines recently.

It is right that there is critique over this colossal change to the farming landscape and the effect it will have on our livelihoods.

See also: Diversify – but only if it’s right for you

About the author

Lucy Nott
Farmlife opinion writer
Lucy lives with her husband, a sixth-generation farmer, and their two children on a 100ha (250 acre) arable farm in Worcestershire. On the farm they have a passion for regenerative agriculture and aspire to transition to a regenerative system. They are also part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot and are trialling lots of new things on the farm. They hosted their first LEAF Open Farm Sunday (LOFS) this year and Lucy is now the LOFS Ambassador for the West Midlands.
Read more articles by Lucy Nott

But all these sensationalised headlines are doing is adding to the stress, worry and confusion that is spreading through the industry.

Our farm is currently part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) pilot, the trial for the first tier of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.

The standards we have available on the pilot are roughly two years ahead of the standards currently available to the public.

Unfortunately, I do not have a magic looking-glass. However, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring and break the negative narrative cycle of “not enough money” and “not enough uptake” by sharing a few takeaways from our experience so far:

  • The application process is very easy compared to the Countryside Stewardship (CS), but you will likely need advice to ensure you are applying correctly.
  • Standard stacking (such as having multiple options per field) is a great way to increase revenue and payments per hectare. We can do this in the pilot (and it has been very beneficial), but it is not currently available to the public.
  • Unlike CS and Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the payments are made quarterly instead of annually. You also get an amendment period once every 12 months, so you can adjust the ambition level within each standard and add fields into your scheme.
  • The SFI administration is advice-led rather than penalty-led. We will receive “visits” not “inspections” and be given the opportunity to correct any mistakes.

Through our experience we have found a lot of positivity. Seeing ELM as a direct replacement for the BPS is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Once we all move away from that idea, it will be easier to have a clearer outlook on the funding situation.