Defra Secretary George Eustice has invited farmers across England to take part in the next stage of the government’s flagship green farming policy.
In his speech to the NFU Conference on Tuesday (23 February), Mr Eustice said that hundreds of farmers will soon pilot the Sustainable Farming Incentive.
The new scheme will reward farmers for taking actions that benefit the environment, such as creating greener landscapes and promoting cleaner air and water.
The pilot will allow them to choose from standards based on specific features of the natural environment such as grassland, hedgerows, water bodies or woodland.
Each standard brings environmental benefits and contains several actions which farmers can apply to their own farms in order to receive payment.
Farmers will be able to shape the design of the scheme by taking part in the pilot, which will welcome expressions of interest from March before it begins in the autumn.
An early version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive will be launched in mid-2022 and expanded over time, Mr Eustice explained.
It will start with a core set of sustainable farming actions, which will build incrementally as more funding becomes available.
In his speech at the virtual NFU Conference, the Environment Secretary said the 'era of top down EU rules is over'.
"Now that we have left the EU, new payments and incentives will reward farmers for farming more sustainably.
"Our future policy is about supporting the choices farmers make for their own holdings," Mr Eustice said.
He said while there were challenges in some areas, many farming sectors had seen a boost to profitability, despite a challenging year due to the pandemic.
Lamb and beef prices have been running at ten-year highs and profits in many sectors have increased.
He signalled plans to use powers in the Agriculture Act to strengthen the position of farmers in the supply chain and to bring transparency and fairness.
Mr Eustice also said he wanted to support new entrepreneurs seeking to get access to land and set up their own farming business.