The Sustainable Farming Incentive – ‘a straightforward way for farmers to be paid for public goods?’

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) Pilot is the first insight into the Government’s new system of support ‘tailored to the interests of our farmers’ and it has been designed to deliver a ‘renewed agricultural sector, producing healthy food for consumption at home and abroad, where farms can be profitable and economically sustainable’.

The SFI is the first of 3 schemes to be made available under the Environmental Land Management (ELM) title, and it has initially been launched as a pilot scheme open to BPS recipients. The pilot phase will trial the ideas behind the scheme before a full rollout in 2024.

Timeline – when do applications open?

Expressions of Interest are open now via Rural Payments Agency online and will close on the 11th April 2021. Full applications will be invited in June 2021 and Agreements will go live in October 2021. Participants should expect their first payment in November 2021.

Am I eligible?

To be eligible for the pilot you must:

· be a BPS recipient

· only enter land parcels which are not currently in an agri-environment scheme

· have management control of the land throughout the pilot period (which could be the end of 2024)

· only enter land parcels located in England and which are not common land

If you are accepted on to the SFI pilot scheme you will still be able to claim BPS (as long as you meet the BPS eligibility criteria).

How much will I be paid?

There are two parts to the payments participants will receive under the SFI pilot:

1. A payment for Land Management Actions

2. A payment for Learning Activities

The ‘Land Management Actions’ will involve 8 ‘standards’ requiring natural assets on a participating farm to be managed in a certain way. The standards will encourage wildlife and carbon friendly farming through for example, hedgerow, soil and woodland management. There will be introductory, intermediate and advanced levels to choose from in each of the standards (except the farm woodland standard which only has 1 level). The standards, together with payment rates, are listed below (note that these rates are due to be updated when the scheme is fully rolled out):

1. arable and horticultural land standard (from £28-£74/ ha)

2. arable and horticultural soils standard (from £30-£59/ ha)

3. improved grassland standard (from £27-£97/ ha)

4. improved grassland soils standard (from £6-£8/ ha)

5. low and no input grassland standard (from £22-£110/ ha)

6. hedgerow standard (from £16-£24/ ha)

7. on farm woodland standard (£49/ ha)

8. waterbody buffering standard (from £16-£34/ 100 metres)

There will also be a range of capital items available to support the above standards.

The ‘Learning Activities’ element of the payment will involve participants being asked to provide feedback on how the scheme works and how it could be improved.

DEFRA says ‘We want to capture ideas while minimising bureaucracy. However, potential participants should be aware that we anticipate that learning activities may involve, on average, around 10-15 hours per month to inform our learning. We expect that most of these hours will involve ‘thinking while doing’. For example, a participant might be thinking about how aspects of the scheme (such as technical guidance or land management actions) could be improved, while planning or physically undertaking work. A smaller proportion of the time would be desk based, for example taking part in questionnaires or workshops.’

It is anticipated that there will be a flat rate of payment for ‘Learning Activities’ and more information will be published on this in due course.

More guidance on the SFI pilot will be released by DEFRA before June 2021, in the meantime current information can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sustainable-farming-incentive-scheme-pilot-launch-overview/sustainable-farming-incentive-defras-plans-for-piloting-and-launching-the-scheme

Having left the EU, those involved in the rural business sector are now entering a new era of farming support systems and we at Stephensons Rural and Boultoncooper are on hand to offer support and advice on new schemes and funding opportunities going forward.

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