Expanded Sustainable Farming Incentive offer to roll out from August

The number of SFI actions has been expanded to 23, including on soil health, hedgerows and pest management
The number of SFI actions has been expanded to 23, including on soil health, hedgerows and pest management

The Sustainable Farming Incentive's (SFI) expanded offer will start accepting applications in a controlled rollout from August, the government has confirmed.

Additional actions under SFI 2023 were announced earlier this year, with an aim to ensure there is an offer that is workable for more types of farms.

The 23 actions now on offer cover existing themes including soil health and moorland, as well as new actions on hedgerows, integrated pest management, nutrient management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips, and low input grassland.

As part of the post-Brexit support system, farmers will get paid for taking actions that support food production while also improving the environment.

The range of actions mean farmers could be paid from £10 per 100m for managing one side of a hedgerow, plus a further £10 per 100m to maintain or establish hedgerow trees.

Farmers could also be paid £129 per hectare for multi-species cover crops, or £589 for a nutrient management review.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said the government wanted farmers to be able to access a package that worked best for them.

He said: "After listening to extensive feedback from farmers, we’ve done a huge amount to streamline and improve the SFI, making it as simple and flexible as possible for farmers to engage with, apply for and embrace.

"The scheme will remain flexible to allow for the changing needs and requirements of both farmers and their markets to ensure the best outcomes for food production and the natural environment.”

The government has also confirmed the SFI management payment will be applied to all land-based SFI actions, including moorland, and has updated the payment rate for low input grassland action to make the rates the same for upland and lowland areas.

For tenant farmers, along with other improvements made in response to Baroness Rock’s review, there are shorter agreement lengths that do not require landlord consent.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Natural England director Brad Tooze said there would be more SFI actions available from next year and beyond.

“We would encourage all land managers to look closely at the SFI 2023 offer, to see what actions they could deliver on their land to benefit nature and wildlife," he said.

"Natural England believes that over time, with sufficient uptake, SFI could make a substantial contribution to reducing the impacts from farming on the environment.”

NFU vice president David Exwood said it was 'encouraging' that the SFI for 2023 appeared to be an improved, broader and more flexible offer.

“Farmers and growers will need to take a close look at all the options being made available and consider how these can be applied on farm.

“We understand Defra intends to offer a ‘smooth transition’ for over 3,000 farmers who joined the SFI22 scheme, which it is closing.

"We await the detail about what this transition will look like, but given their early commitment and the lessons learned, these farmers must be treated fairly and rewarded during the transition, should they wish to take up a SFI23 agreement."

He added: “Defra has to get this right. If SFI and the wider ELM scheme is to be successful, it needs to be simple, flexible and provide certainty so there’s widespread uptake."

SFI 2023: What’s on offer?

The Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023 will start accepting applications from August, and here is what is on offer:

• More than twice as many new SFI actions as originally planned

• Payments are made every three months

• A management payment of £20 per hectare for the first 50 hectares to cover participation costs

• A payment to cover one on-farm vet visit each year to review the health and welfare of livestock

• The same payment rates for farms in upland and lowland areas

• An additional annual payment for common land of £6.15 per hectare for groups of two or more

• A full SFI 2023 handbook with confirmed payment rates and final details for each action