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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.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has recently provided an update as to how the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme will be expanded and improved in 2024.

Primarily, there will be an increase of around 10% for payment rates for options under the scheme, in an aim to provide more money for farmers to deliver change and have a positive impact on the environment. There will also be the introduction of “premium payments” for the 21 actions listed as high priority, where options are considered to have the biggest environmental impact.

In line with this, the number of actions available is being increased so that there will be an additional 50 options available from sometime in the summer. This should mean that the scheme is accessible to more farmers, as there will be a wider range of actions available to choose from.

There will be actions introduced for precision farming, where payments are made for farming actions which use technology and reduce the use of pesticides or fertilisers.

Some of the new additional actions available in summer 2024 are detailed below:

Action AvailablePayment RateDescription
Precision Farming – Variable rate application of nutrients£27 per hectarePrecision farming variable rate technology is used to apply nutrients on arable, horticultural land or improved permanent grassland, to match the nutrient needs of crops for different areas within land parcels
Manage species-rich floodplain meadows (5-year option)£1,070 per hectareSpecies-rich floodplain meadows that periodically flood are managed naturally
Deer control and management (10-year option)£105 per hectareControl native or non-native deer where they are having a negative impact on priority species and habitats such as native woodlands
Footpath access (5-year option)£77 per 100mProvide and maintain new permissive footpaths to the public

DEFRA will also be altering the online application process, so that farmers and land managers can use a single service for both their SFI and Countryside Stewardship (CSS) Mid-Tier applications. The aim of this system is to allow the applicant to select from the range of eligible actions available on each land parcel, as well as combining compatible SFI and CSS Mid-Tier actions. This should lead to a more efficient application process, and less duplication of actions between SFI and CSS scheme agreements.

The new actions will be available later this year, although an exact date is yet to be published. Those with an existing SFI agreement can either add these actions at the existing agreement’s annual review date or start a second SFI agreement when the new options become available.

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 

As we continue to see annual reductions to the Basic Payment Scheme monies received from Government, farmers and land managers can take advantage of applying for schemes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) in order to help to bridge this financial gap.

The SFI scheme is now open for 2023 applications, with the actions included in the scheme focussed towards providing flexibility to farmers and land managers, and offering options which have something suitable for every type of farm. Additionally, the scheme is not competitive and therefore anyone who applies (subject to being eligible) is guaranteed to be offered an agreement.

There are 23 actions offered as part of the 2023 SFI scheme, relating to soil health, hedgerows, pest and nutrient management, moorland, buffer strips, grassland and arable land, with higher payments being made for the more complex actions. It is likely that most farmers and land managers will already be undertaking some of these actions in the existing day-to-day management of their holding, and therefore it would be prudent for them to apply for the SFI, in order to receive a financial benefit for this.

The payment rates for the actions under SFI have been aligned to be similar to Countryside Stewardship options, so that you do not lose out financially, regardless of which scheme you choose to enter. There is also a management payment for entering into the SFI scheme, with £20 per hectare being paid for up to the first 50 hectares of land entered into an agreement. This is to help to account for the administration costs that may be incurred for managing an SFI agreement.

The SFI agreements run for 3 years, with farmers and land managers able to upgrade their agreement annually, either by including more land or adding more actions. An annual declaration must be submitted to the Rural Payments Agency confirming that all actions have been complied with.

With further actions being rolled out in 2024, this year is a good opportunity for farmers and land managers to enter into the SFI to gain an understanding of how the scheme works for them, as well as providing a guaranteed income for their business, with the option to upgrade or expand their agreement further next year. Payments under the SFI are made quarterly, which provides a regular cash flow for farmers and land managers.

For more information or if you require help in preparing and submitting your application, please call Katie Cross.

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.