Payment rates revealed for new Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

Defra is looking for “several hundred farmers” in England to take part in the pilot of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), paying them for producing public goods – such as improving soil health and hedgerow management – that go beyond regulatory requirements.

The SFI is one of three elements of the planned Environmental Land Management scheme, and details of the pilot have now been published.

See also: What farmers are thinking about the ELM scheme

Farmers taking part will be able to select from an initial eight standards to build their own farm agreements, helping to promote greener landscapes, cleaner air and water, and guarding against climate change and flooding.

For example, an “arable and horticultural land standard” will pay up to £74/ha for doing things such as providing areas of tall scrub for nesting and sheltering wildlife, encouraging crop pest predators and using precision application of fertilisers.

And a new “hedgerow standard” will pay up to £24/100m for including more trees in hedges and creating parallel buffer strips.

What are the eight standards?

  • Arable and horticultural land standard Payments of £28-£74/ha
  • Arable and horticultural soils standard Payments of £30-£59/ha
  • Improved grassland standard Payments of £27-£97/ha
  • Improved grassland soils standard Payments of £6-£8/ha
  • Low and no input grassland standard Payments of £22-£110/ha
  • Hedgerow standard Payments of £16-£24/100m
  • On-farm woodland standard Payment of £49/ha
  • Waterbody buffering standard Payments of £16-£34/100m

“The Sustainable Farming Incentive will allow farmers to take a fresh look at the land they farm, the natural assets they have and decide what will work best for their own individual holding,” said Defra secretary George Eustice.

“It will reward approaches to farm husbandry such as encouraging integrated pest management, improving soil health and enhancing hedgerows. Assets that were previously dubbed ineligible features will finally have their value recognised and rewarded.”

Defra will be accepting “expressions of interest” from Monday (15 March), by completing a simple online form.

Successful candidates will then be invited to complete an application and, if eligible, will enter into a pilot agreement starting from October 2021.

Who can apply to take part in the SFI pilot?

Farmers will only be eligible if they:

  • Are a recipient of the Basic Payments Scheme, registered on the Rural Payments Agency system 
  • Enter land parcels into the pilot that do not have an existing agri-environment agreement on them 
  • Have management control of the land for the duration of the pilot
  • Enter land parcels that are in England only and are not common land.

Within each standard there will be three levels for participants to choose from – introductory, intermediate and advanced – with each level being more challenging, and more rewarding, than the previous level.

Where appropriate, more than one standard can be applied to the same area of land.

Initially, payment rates for land management actions will be broadly equivalent to current Countryside Stewardship rates, though updated payment rates for the full SFI, due to launch mid-2022, are currently being developed.

Farmers who participate in piloting will continue to receive their BPS payments, though these are set to be scaled back progressively over the next seven years.

They may also be involved in other agri-environment schemes, but not on the same parcel of land.

Pilot participants will also be asked to take part in a range of co-design activities, providing rapid feedback on their experience of all aspects of the process.

Commenting on the pilot, Tenant Farmers Association policy adviser, Lynette Steel said it was just the start of a long journey moving away from area-based payments.

“There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure SFI becomes a robust and tangible scheme that can be practically implemented for any farming system.”