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The ‘new and improved’ Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) for 2023 is now open for applications, but what does this really mean?

With figures stating more than 14,000 registrations of interest and almost 1,000 applications were submitted in the first month, .gov.uk has also reported the first farmers who signed up to the Sustainable Farming Incentive have already received advance payments worth 25% of the value of annual agreements.

Charles Raine, Director and Rural Surveyor based within our Hexham Mart office, looks deeper into the broad claims by DEFRA.

The much-anticipated 2023 iteration of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has, following delays, been officially kicked off. The application portal was opened by Defra on September 18th, and the Rural Payments Agency (APA) is currently accepting applications. DEFRA and the RPA have seemingly taken notice from farmers, land owners and rural agents working on their behalf and using feedback to making it more extensive and adaptable than the initial drafts.

So, what does SFI look like in 2023?

  • The 2023 SFI offers 23 actions, 19 of which are new, under the themes of soil health, moorland, hedgerows, integrated pest management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips and low input grassland. With further actions promised to be added and to be made available over the coming years, what these will be and when they will be offered is still yet to be confirmed. One welcome change is that farmers will now be able to claim for SFI and CS options at the same time, as long as they are compatible. The key to success with this will be farmers knowing exactly which scheme will deliver them the greatest benefit.
  • Further incentives include management payments of £20/ha for the first 50ha in an SFI agreement. The management fee is set to cover the administrative costs of managing the SFI, with a maximum claim of up to £1000 per year per business. Those farming on common land or shared grazing will also have the opportunity to claim if a Single Business Identifier are in place and accompanied by legal agreements.
  • There is also an animal health and welfare review payment available which can be applied for under a separate agreement. This will contribute towards annual vet visits.
  • Agreements will be three years in length, with rolling applications meaning applicants are no longer restricted by application dates. A much more flexible approach than the previous BPS management and current stewardship schemes.
  • Farmers need to have been eligible for BPS in May 2022 and May 2023, with management control of the land for the duration of the agreement, to be eligible for SFI23.
  • Tenants are now able to apply for SFI without the permission of the land owner provided they expect to have management control for three years or more.
  • Different methods of monitoring are applied to each action and must be carried out to ensure compliance is upheld. Breeches can lead to repayments being required by DEFRA.
  • Funding limits set against CS Claims have been removed, resulting in no limits on the maximum amount for standalone capital grant applications of the amount that can be applied for in each of the four groups, which are: boundaries, trees and orchards, water quality, air quality, and natural flood management. Land entered into and SFI agreement is still eligible for CS Capital Grant funding.

The enhancements made to the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme in 2023 mark a significant step forward for farmers to adopt eco-friendly practices to not only benefit the agricultural industry but also have far-reaching positive impacts on the environment.

The renewed focus on soil health, biodiversity preservation, and sustainable land management demonstrates a clear dedication to improving the overall sustainability of our farming practices. As a result, we can expect to see healthier ecosystems, cleaner water sources, and more resilient farmlands.

Furthermore, the increased financial incentives and support mechanisms ensure that sustainable farming is not only an ideal but a financially viable option for our agriculturalists. This paves the way for more farmers to participate in sustainable practices, creating a ripple effect of positive change throughout the industry.

As we move forward, it is clear the improvements represent a robust commitment to addressing the challenges of climate change and food security while fostering a harmonious coexistence between agriculture and the environment.

If you are struggling to navigate your way through the SFI or would just like some advice regarding your eligibility pop in to one of our free SFI Drop In sessions.  Sessions take place on Tuesday’s and Friday’s throughout October and November between 10am and 4pm at youngsRPS’ Hexham Mart office. No appointment is necessary.