Defra to launch 23 actions under SFI 2023 from August

Farmers and land managers in England will be able to apply for 23 actions under the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme from August.

The 23 standalone actions available under the 2023 scheme include 19 new ones and four carried forward from 2022.

New actions on offer for SFI 2023 include payments for hedgerows, integrated pest management, nutrient management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips and low-input grassland.

See also: Analysis: What Defra’s ELM update means for farmers

Defra will publish a new 150-page SFI handbook which will set out the different options, payment rates and criteria for farmers to join the scheme.

To be eligible, farmers must be claiming Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments on at least 5ha of land.

The 2023 SFI scheme is a much broader offer, which will appeal to farms of all types and sizes, Defra insists. Sector-specific guides will help farmers to quickly see what’s on offer for their farm type.

Pick ‘n’ mix approach

Participants will be encouraged to choose individual options which best suit their farms under a more flexible, “pick ‘n’ mix” approach, rather than prescriptive, one-size-fits-all rules of previous environmental schemes.

The range of actions means farmers could be paid £10/100m for managing one side of a hedgerow, £129/ha for multi-species crops, £589 a year for a nutrient management review, and £989 a year for an integrated pest management plan.

Following lobbying from the NFU, the Country Land and Business Association, the Tenant Farmers Association and others, farmers in the uplands will receive parity in payments for all options.

For example, all farmers will receive £151/ha for managing grassland with low inputs.

Applications for SFI 2023 will start to be accepted through a controlled rollout, likely to be in the second half of August. This will be followed by a rolling window which will allow farmers to apply at any time.

During the initial rollout period, when farmers sign into the Rural Payments service, they will either be able to apply online, or be asked to contact the Rural Payments Agency, which will arrange for them to start their application.

About 3,300 farmers who are currently enrolled in SFI 2022 will be served notice to end their agreements and they will be invited to join SFI 2023.

They will receive closure payments for three actions not available in the 2023 scheme (adding organic matter to soils, having at least one crop species in the ground over winter on arable land, and having no more than 5% of your grassland uncovered over winter).

Farmers will receive an SFI management payment of £20/ha for up to 50ha of land entered into the scheme in recognition of the administrative costs.

SFI options will be able to be combined with Countryside Stewardship options on the same parcels of land, but farmers cannot be paid for the same action under both schemes.

Two-week turnaround

Defra says it has simplified the application process to remove the need for farmers to employ land agents to help submit applications. The average time to process applications is just two weeks, it says.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “After listening to extensive feedback from farmers, we’ve done a huge amount to streamline and improve the Sustainable Farming Incentive, making it as simple and as flexible as possible for farmers to engage with, apply for and embrace.

“We want farmers to be able to access a package that works best for them. The scheme will remain flexible to allow for the changing needs of both farmers and their markets to ensure the best outcomes for food production and the natural environment.”

To help the UK government reach its environmental goals, Defra has a target of enrolling at least 70% of eligible farmers in England to its Environmental Land Management programme by 2028, of which the SFI is the first component.

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