Applications start for Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023

THE NEW Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has started to accept applications, the Secretary of State for Food and Farming has confirmed.

The scheme will pay farmers in England to take actions that support food production, farm profitability and resilience, whilst protecting and enhancing the environment.

The 2023 offer has been expanded and made more flexible in response to farmer feedback and now offers more than twice as many new SFI actions as originally planned. 23 paid-for actions are on offer including on hedgerows, nutrient management, farmland wildlife and low input grassland, and improvements mean farmers can choose what combination of actions are right for them – unlike previously where actions were grouped into standards.

Thousands of farm businesses of all types and sizes have already registered their interest with the Rural Payments Agency to begin their applications, with invitations to apply issued from today and scaled up to get applicants on board and ensure a good service for farmers.

Farmers with a live SFI agreement before the end of the year will receive their first quarterly payment – worth 25% of the annual value of their agreement – by the end of this year. This will typically be paid in the first month of their agreement starting, and with thousands of expressions of interest already received, there will be no cap on what individual farmers can do in the scheme or overall numbers of applications.

Secretary of State for Food and Farming Thérèse Coffey said “I have been delighted by the registrations of interest from farmers across a diverse range of farm types in our new Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme. It highlights how the SFI has something on offer for every type of farmer.

“We’ll be working to get as many farmers onto the scheme as quickly as possible, so that they get payments in their pockets and are rewarded for the enthusiasm with which they are embracing this scheme.”

Hundreds of early adopter farmers were invited to apply ahead of today’s wider rollout, with applications already submitted and the first agreement under the SFI scheme already issued.

Farmers with existing Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship agreements are among these early adopters. They have already been invited to apply, and Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship agreement holders will be able to apply alongside those who are not yet in an agreement.

Farmers with SFI 2022 agreements are also able to express their interest to apply to the new scheme. Invitations to apply have already been sent to some SFI 2022 agreement holders who submitted expressions of interest, and they can begin their applications alongside everyone else.

Defra has have put in place an automated service that will enable farmers to apply online and agreements to be processed much more quickly than has been possible with previous schemes, meaning most people can get started in their agreement within a few weeks of applying, rather than waiting several months.

As they roll out this service, they are asking farmers to register their interest in applying and then inviting them to apply. They will invite everyone who has expressed an interest to apply as quickly as possible. Pre-registration ensures farmers are supported to have all necessary information in place, including online maps and land use / cover details, so they are ready when they are invited to apply in the coming days.

The announcement comes after the closure of applications for the Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier scheme which saw more than 6,500 applications submitted. All farmers and landowners who started their application by the deadline or who submitted land changes with the intention to apply will be supported by the Rural Payments Agency to ensure they have sufficient time to complete these:

How Defra says the SFI 2023 offer been improved for farmers:

  • Actions that can be good for food production, farm profitability and the environment
  • More than twice as many new SFI actions as originally planned
  • More flexible requirements, so that farmers can meet the requirements of the scheme in ways that best work for their farm, and the flexibility to rotate actions and add more actions and land each year
  • A rolling application window – farmers can apply whenever works for them
  • A scheme that is more accessible for tenant farmers, with shorter agreement lengths and the ability to enter into SFI based on short-term rolling tenancies
  • A reliable income – payments are made every three months
  • A management payment of £20 per hectare for the first 50 hectares to cover participation costs
  • The same payment rates for farms in upland and lowland areas for equivalent actions
  • An additional annual payment for common land of £6.15 per hectare for groups of two or more
  • A full SFI handbook with confirmed payment rates and final details for each action
  • The scheme is straightforward to apply for online – farmers will only be shown the options available to their farm
  • SFI is less prescriptive than before, so farmers can choose their own combination of actions in a new ‘pick and mix’ structure
  • There’s no minimum or maximum land area or hedgerow length, so farmers can choose how much land to cover with their SFI agreement
  • SFI actions and Countryside Stewardship (CS) options can be combined in the same parcels, and on the same areas of land within parcels, if the land is eligible for both schemes and the actions are compatible
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