Thousands of applications made for Sustainable Farming Incentive

More than 10,000 farmers across England have now applied for the improved Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) since it opened in September, Defra has announced.

Four months after applications re-opened, one-in-eight eligible farmers have now submitted an application. This is on top of the 32,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements which are already in place.

SFI, which pays farmers for taking actions that support food production, farm productivity and resilience, whilst protecting and enhancing environment, has attracted applications from farmers in every part of the country, with every type and size of farm business represented.

Farmers have taken up actions through the scheme to deliver tangible environmental benefits alongside food production. As of January, 174,000 hectares of arable land is now being managed without insecticides, 71,000 hectares of low input grassland is focused on improving sustainability, and almost 15,000km of hedgerows are under management.

The announcement comes as Defra also announces the winners of the ‘On farm Environmental Resilience’ competition, with projects awarded a share of £12.2 million funding to solve long-term challenges to plants, crops and farmed animals.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said, “The Sustainable Farming Incentive has something on offer for every type of farm business, so it’s pleasing to see the scheme proving popular with farmers across England.

“For those who have not yet applied, I encourage you to take a look at how the scheme could work for your business so you can join the thousands of other farmers already getting paid.”

Rural Payments Agency Chief Executive Paul Caldwell said, “We’ve worked hard to make the application process straightforward and the feedback we are getting from a majority of farmers is that they are finding it so. Everything that farmers need to apply has been published and I would urge them not to wait and get involved now.”

SFI has been expanded and improved based on farmers’ feedback, with a more straightforward application process, greater flexibility for farmers to choose the actions that work for them, and the ability to be in SFI at the same time as Countryside Stewardship as long as the actions are compatible.

Today’s announcement follows the government’s announcement at the Oxford Farming Conference of a big upgrade to the UK’s farming schemes. This included around 50 new actions that farmers can get paid for across all types of farm businesses; a 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship driven by increased payment rates, with uplifts automatically applied to existing agreements; and a streamlined single application process for farmers to apply for SFI and Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier.

Farmers are encouraged to apply for an SFI agreement now and choose from the 23 actions already on offer, rather than delay until summer when the scheme will be expanded further. This is to ensure they can benefit from funding available now, and can then add actions to their agreements annually – or have multiple agreements – if they’d like to carry out further actions.

There is a range of support on offer for farmers applying or considering applying for the scheme, including:

  • Sector-specific webinars in February and March to give farmers and land managers a chance to give their feedback and learn more about SFI.
  • Defra and RPA colleagues will be on stands at agricultural shows throughout England with more information.
  • 6 regional events in Southwest, West Midlands and North East to raise awareness of schemes, especially amongst livestock and mixed sectors.
  • Planned joint webinars with trusted networks including Catchment Sensitive Farming advisors, FAS, Barclays Bank, Waitrose.
  • Defra attendance at NFU conference
  • Ongoing monthly engagement with top 30 stakeholders through forums and bilaterals

Farmers can find out more about upcoming webinars and Defra regional events by visiting the Farming blog. Farmers can also access free business advice through the Farming Resilience Fund, or speak to the RPA through their Rural Payment Service helpline – 03000 200 301

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