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On 25th March, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that it would be applying a cap to the amount of land farmers can put into certain Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) actions. This affects those actions which take land out of production, in a bid to protect food security.

The cap of 25% of the holding has been applied to the following actions for applications submitted after midnight on 25th March 2024. Your application won’t be affected if you applied before this.

AHL1: Pollen and nectar flower mix

AHL2: Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land

AHL3: Grassy field corners or blocks

IGL1: Take improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management

IGL2: Winter bird food on improved grassland

IPM2: Flower-rich grass margins, blocks, or in-field strips

If you require assistance with an application for SFI or Countryside Stewardship, please contact a member of our Rural team on 01234 352201.

Updated guidance for the ‘new and improved’ Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) for 2023 has been provided by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). This has been met with high anticipation by all involved in agriculture and land management.

The 2023 scheme offers 23 land management actions in total, which can be ‘picked and mixed’ across a farm. New options include actions on hedgerows, integrated pest management, nutrient management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips and low input grassland.

A guidance handbook has been produced by DEFRA detailing the scheme’s rules and requirements. This is available online at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sfi-handbook-for-the-sfi-2023-offer

The main points are summarised below: 

DEFRA is in the process of contacting farmers already signed up to the original scheme, to explain how they can access the new payments, benefits and improvements in the 2023 offer.

As further details emerge, we will be updating our clients. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Rural Property & Business department on 01234 352201.

Countryside Stewardship

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that some of the Countryside Stewardship revenue payment rates have increased with effect from 1st January 2023. Where applicable, the higher revenue payment rate will be for both applications received in 2023, as well as revenue agreements which started on or before 1st January 2023.

Payment rates for capital Countryside Stewardship items have also been updated in line with current costs. The increased payment rates only apply to agreements which start 1st January 2023 onwards but there is the option to withdraw capital items from earlier schemes and reapply. Farmers will now have three years to complete and claim for capital works rather than two. Applications for new Capital Grant only schemes can now be made all year round so anyone considering applying should start looking at the application process.

Both Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier and Higher-Tier Schemes will continue to be offered to applicants for agreements starting on 1st January 2024, with applications opening February/March 2023. It has also been announced that Defra will replace the proposed Local Nature Recovery Scheme with an enhanced Countryside Stewardship Scheme. This scheme will be known as Countryside Stewardship Plus and will provide payments in relation to carbon and biodiversity. Further details are yet to be released, but there are likely to be up to around 30 additional actions available to farmers under this new scheme by the end of 2024.

Sustainable Farming Incentive

2022 saw the launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) Scheme, with land managers able to apply to enter their land into three standards, being Arable & Horticultural Soils, Improved Grassland Soils and Moorland.

In 2023, there will be new standards launched under SFI, as detailed below:

Additionally, a new SFI Management Payment is being introduced. This payment will be for £20 per hectare, for up to 50 hectares of land entered into the SFI scheme, so a maximum payment of £1,000. The payment is aimed towards encouraging smaller farms to take advantage of the financial incentives that SFI could provide. This management payment will not be offered to those who already participate in the SFI pilot programme. Currently, there are no further details as to when the Management Payment will be applied or available.

Landscape Recovery

The Landscape Recovery Scheme falls under the umbrella of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) and is for large scale projects which look to undertake significant habitat restoration and land use change. The first round of applications has now closed but there will be a second round of applications opening later this year.

Innovation and Productivity Grants

It is expected that the next round of the Farm Equipment and Technology Fund, for small grants between £2,000 and £25,000, will be launched in spring 2023.

These latest announcements made by Defra provide much of the information we’ve been waiting for to allow farmers to plan future schemes, although there are still further details to be announced. We’d encourage all farmers to look at the various schemes and consider which work best for their farm to ensure opportunities are not missed.

If you would like one of our team to undertake a review please do get in touch. For more information or to find out how our Rural Property & Business department can help you please contact 01234 352201 or 01280 428010 or email bedford@robinsonandhall.co.uk  

Applications for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme are now open. There is no deadline for applications, which can be submitted online though the Rural Payment Agency’s system.  Payments will be made quarterly with the first payment usually made 3 months after the agreement start date.

Currently there are only two standards available but more will be available in future years. The standards available, as well as the payment rates, are detailed below:

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard

Key Points:

To be eligible for this standard, each land parcel entered must be cultivated arable land. This can also include temporary grassland, i.e. land that has been in grass or other herbaceous forage for less than 5 years. Alternatively, temporary grass can be entered into the Improved Grassland Soils Standard. If the temporary grass will have been down for more than 5 years at some point during the 3 year SFI scheme, it will need to be entered in the Improved Grassland Soils Standard as it would no longer be considered arable land.

Improved Grassland Soils Standard

Key Points:

To qualify as ‘improved grassland’, the land must have been managed in some of the following ways:

The detailed scheme requirements can be found here.

For more information or to find out how our Rural Property & Business department can help you please contact 01234 352201 or 01280 428010 or email bedford@robinsonandhall.co.uk.

With the end of 2021 fast approaching, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have finally provided details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) early rollout, due to occur in spring 2022. The proposed rollout, the first element of the Environmental Land Management Schemes, is a slimmed-down version of the Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot, the agreements of which are currently being implemented.

The SFI early rollout (SFI 2022) has seen amendments to the initial concept of the scheme, with policymakers listening to applicants’ and experts’ thoughts on the practicalities of operation. The agreements will last 3 years, with payments made quarterly. There will be no minimum or maximum land areas and applicants will be able to choose the specific land parcels included in the agreement. There will also be an element of flexibility to amend the agreement every 12 months – such as including additional land areas.

As with the SFI Pilot, the SFI 2022 requires applicants to enter land parcels into ‘Standards’, being:

The first two Soil Standards will be the focus for most applicants. These Standards will only have introductory and intermediate levels to start with. As with the SFI Pilot, the payment received is reflective of the level of Standard that is entered into.

A summary of the requirements and the related payments, per hectare, are summarized below:

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard

Grassland Soils Standard

The advanced levels for both Standards are expected to be introduced from 2023. We have been told the Advanced Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard will focus on no-till and min-till farming. 

Effort has been made to keep the Standards, and levels, as simple as possible to encourage implementation on the ground. However, there are specific nuances to several of the requirements, e.g. time requirements for the testing of soil organic matter. It is recommended that the full scheme is reviewed and considered in advance of the application window, which will be 10 weeks, opening in spring 2022.

The full scheme manual can be found at:

Sustainable Farming Incentive: how the scheme will work in 2022 – GOV.UK

If you would like more information or to discuss the options available, please contact a member of our Rural Team.

Over the last three years, we have seen a growing trend of landowners being approached by developers looking to develop new garden villages. These garden villages are often within the open countryside on land that we would not normally consider suitable for development as it is not adjoining any major settlement.

The garden village concept is for these communities to be self-servicing, with a local service centre, and to vary between 1,000 and 3,000 houses. The area of land required is significant at 200 to 600 acres per village and we have noticed a trend towards being close to a train station and/or good road connection.

The garden village concept therefore offers huge opportunities to landowners to gain the benefit of development proceeds, whilst also creating a development that they can be proud of with a focus on place making and designed with the community in mind.

The first few developments using this new concept have now received planning permission and the house builders, in particular the large PLCs, like the concept due to them being able to provide a significant housing number over the long term. The advantage to the local councils is that it provides the opportunity to locate housing away from further expansion on the edges of existing conurbations.

With the continued need for new housing sites and the Government preparing its Strategic Framework for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, we are already involved in negotiations for a significant number of garden village sites and expect to see further proposals come forward through the planning system.

If you are a landowner and are approached about a new garden village development, please do consider it carefully and discuss it with us at an early stage. The development of such land may feel farfetched but it may now be far more likely than it once was.

Should you have any questions then please contact Andrew Jenkinson, Partner and Rural Chartered Surveyor, on 07967 964508 or email abrj@robinsonandhall.co.uk