Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot to open for applications

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is one of the first post-Brexit farming schemes to be piloted
The Sustainable Farming Incentive is one of the first post-Brexit farming schemes to be piloted

Farmers are being encouraged to apply to take part in the Sustainable Farming Incentive, with pilot agreements expected to be rolled out from October.

Details of the new scheme have been published today (10 March) and expressions of interest for the pilot will open from Monday 15 March.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive will support approaches to farming that deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

For example, a farmer might be paid to manage and plant hedgerows to provide year-round food, shelter and breeding cover for birds and insects.

For the pilot's first phase, payment rates for land management actions will be set at a broadly equivalent level to rates under Countryside Stewardship, Defra has confirmed.

It said this was a starting position only and updated payment rates for the launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive from 2022 were being developed.

In the first phase, participants will be able to select from an initial set of eight standards to build their own agreements.

The standards will promote cleaner air and water, and guard against environmental risks such as climate change and flooding.

Within each standard there are three levels for participants to choose from – Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced.

Each level is more challenging, and more rewarding, than the previous level and delivers greater environmental benefits, Defra explained.

This initial stage will be open to 'several hundred farmers', with an aim to reflect England’s distribution of farm types and locations.

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

Defra said this would ensure the scheme was 'fully workable and user-friendly' once fully rolled out from 2024.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Sustainable Farming Incentive would support the environment and promote animal welfare.

"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.

"I would encourage farmers to engage in this pilot to help us design the new scheme," Mr Eustice said.

Farmers wanting to take part in the pilot stage will need to complete an online form to submit expressions of interest, Defra said.

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