OFC 2023: Defra minister insists funding for farming has not been cut

Defra farming minister Mark Spencer has urged farmers to get involved with the Sustainable Farming Incentive, dismissing suggestions that money taken from English farmers through Basic Payment Scheme cuts is not being returned through other means.

His comments came as The Guardian reported that just 224 farmers have been paid under Defra’s flagship Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) policy, which launched last June.

Meanwhile, about 85,000 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claimants have now faced two years of progressive cuts to BPS.

See also: Defra to pay more for SFI and Countryside Stewardship

Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday (5 January), Mr Spencer insisted that money was not leaking out of the sector.

“As we make planned, steady, fair reductions to BPS payments, all the funding from those reductions is being made available to farmers though a combination of one-off grants and ongoing schemes,” he said.

“We’ve brought forward BPS payments to twice a year, and we’ve started making payments in our new Sustainable Farming Incentive on a quarterly basis instead of annually.

“We plan to extend this approach to all our schemes as soon as we can, making the most of our ability to be more flexible now we’re doing things on our own terms.”

SFI details

Mr Spencer added that he would be publishing detailed information about six further SFI standards and payment rates for 2023 later this month.

“Of course, the level of funding available to farmers remains unchanged – just as we committed in our manifesto,” he said.

“So, I urge you to get involved with the initial phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

“There’s no application window. Farmers have told us they they’ve applied in 20 minutes flat, and you’ll get your agreement within two weeks. Start your agreement the next month, and you should start getting paid three months later.”

The Defra minister said the scheme had been made more accessible to tenant farmers by offering three-year agreements instead of five years, and allowing tenants on shorter contracts to enter into the scheme without the need for landlord consent.

With a new payment of £20/ha for the first 50ha now available – to cover the costs of taking part in SFI – and more options to be added, 2023 was the year to sign up.

“I encourage you to take a look,” Mr Spencer told the conference.

How payments to English farmers have changed

Direct payments

  • 2021-22 – £1.65bn
  • 2022-23 – Approximately £1.4bn

Environmental, productivity and innovation schemes

  • 2021-22 – £640m
  • 2022-23 – Approximately £1bn

In some years, spend will be slightly higher or lower than £2.4bn, but averaged across the course of the parliament the annual farming budget is maintained.