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.
Applications for the previous SFI 2022 scheme closed on 21st June 2023.
The application window for SFI 2023 is to reopen through a ‘controlled rollout’ from August 2023.
Applicants are to use the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) online portal. Initially applicants will be able to apply online, or they will be advised that they need to contact the RPA.
DEFRA is aiming for the average time window from applying to receiving an agreement to be two weeks. This may be longer initially as the new technology is tested.
DEFRA has made it clear that if your land is eligible and the actions picked are compatible, an agreement is guaranteed. There’s no competition.
The agreement will start the month after you accept it.
SFI 2023 will be a 3-year agreement, requiring management control of land entered throughout this period.
There are also shorter agreement lengths that do not require landlord consent for tenant farmers.
In a move away from past schemes, farmers and land managers can decide how best to achieve each action’s aim, rather than follow a prescriptive rule-based approach.
The scheme is to be flexible and more compatible with other schemes, to include Countryside Stewardship. The guidance outlines how the schemes will interact.
There is to be no minimum or maximum land area or hedgerow length, enabling farmers to choose how much to enter.
Each applicant will be required to complete an annual declaration and provide evidence if requested.
It will be possible to ‘upgrade’ annually in the scheme, adding actions and land to the agreement.
Reducing the agreement scope, by removing land or reducing actions, will not usually be allowed. Should this be required, for instance, if an area of land is not under management control, the RPA is to be notified in writing as some payments may need to be repaid.
Payments are to be made every three months, with the first payment in month 4 of the agreement.
Payments will be based on areas and hedgerow lengths included, and will include the annual management payment of £20 per hectare for the first 50 hectares entered into the scheme.
In addition, a payment to cover one on-farm visit each year to review the health and welfare of livestock is available. There will be no need to have an SFI agreement with land management options to be eligible for this.
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.