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Government Strengthens Sustainable Farming Incentive with Expanded Measures




The government has announced a significant update to its Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, broadening the range of actions farmers and landowners can take to reduce their environmental impact and qualify for subsidy payments.


Starting in July, the SFI will welcome new entrants for the first time, offering payments linked to 102 specific actions designed in collaboration with the agricultural sector. This expansion includes over 20 new options to promote more sustainable food production.


The updated scheme will reward farms engaged in precision farming, agroforestry, and various measures to enhance biodiversity and climate resilience. Additionally, the government will introduce new and expanded support for upland farmers and more actions available to tenants on short-term contracts.


Moreover, new actions will boost flood preparedness, helping businesses adapt to the changing climate and challenging weather conditions.


Defra also confirmed that the rule restricting SFI applicants from dedicating more than 25 per cent of their land to six SFI actions that take land out of direct production would extend to the new actions. These include in-field grass strips, unharvested cereal headland, bumble-bird mix, and cultivated areas for arable plants. The rule aims to ensure the subsidy scheme continues to promote food production while enhancing food security.


"I recognise that farmers have had to deal with difficult circumstances this year, which is why we have delivered on our commitment to provide further detail on the expanded SFI offer ahead of applications opening in July," said Farming Minister Mark Spencer. "The new expanded SFI offer gives farmers more choice, makes things easier and pays out more, so they can get on with the important job of producing high-quality food in a sustainable way."


The government has announced a significant update to its Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, broadening the range of actions farmers and landowners can take to reduce their environmental impact and qualify for subsidy payments.


Starting in July, the SFI will welcome new entrants for the first time, offering payments linked to 102 specific actions designed in collaboration with the agricultural sector. This expansion includes over 20 new options to promote more sustainable food production.


The updated scheme will reward farms engaged in precision farming, agroforestry, and various measures to enhance biodiversity and climate resilience. Additionally, the government will introduce new and expanded support for upland farmers and more actions available to tenants on short-term contracts.


Moreover, new actions will boost flood preparedness, helping businesses adapt to the changing climate and challenging weather conditions.


Defra also confirmed that the rule restricting SFI applicants from dedicating more than 25 per cent of their land to six SFI actions that take land out of direct production would extend to the new actions. These include in-field grass strips, unharvested cereal headland, bumble-bird mix, and cultivated areas for arable plants. The rule aims to ensure the subsidy scheme continues to promote food production while enhancing food security.


The announcement follows criticism from farming and green groups. These groups have welcomed the linking of subsidy payments to environmental outcomes but have raised concerns about the scheme being underfunded, difficult to access, and potentially falling short of delivering promised environmental gains.


Responding to feedback, the government confirmed a 10 per cent average increase in payment rates for SFI agreements and the accompanying Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme earlier this year. It also introduced premium payments for actions that achieve the greatest environmental benefits.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a doubling of management payments through the scheme at the NFU Conference, and today, Defra revealed plans to merge 50 actions from the CS scheme with the SFI to streamline the application process for farmers.


Additionally, the government confirmed that the application window for CS Higher Tier, which provides grants to help farmers protect, restore, or enhance the environment, will open in the winter, with agreements starting in January 2025.


"We have been improving the offer, making it simpler and reducing the burden of seeking advice and endorsement," Defra said. "We are developing even more actions and features to be added to the expanded SFI offer later this year, including an educational access action announced in January's Agricultural Transition Plan update. These new actions will ensure farmers have greater choice and flexibility to produce food within SFI in a way that works best for them."


In related news, today's government also announced it will relax planning rules for farmers to facilitate the conversion of unused buildings into new homes and shops.


"I am extremely pleased to support our farmers and provide them the freedom to decide the best uses for buildings on their land without needless bureaucracy holding them back," said Spencer. "We are listening to farmers and putting them at the heart of future development of our rural areas. Helping farmers secure their businesses and get on with the important job of producing food is our top priority."


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