Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Applications start for Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023
The new and improved Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has started to accept applications of yesterday.(18 September), 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 as of yesterday and scaled up to get applicants on board and ensure a good service for farmers.
As announced last week, 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 yesterday 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 yesterday’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.
We 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 we roll out this service, we are asking farmers to register their interest in applying and then inviting them to apply. We 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:https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mid-tier-grants-and-wildlife-offers-2023-countryside-stewardship.
Farming & Countryside Programme Annual Report
We can also provide further detail on how the farming budget has been allocated in the last year through our Farming and Countryside Programme annual report.
We are on track to meet the Government’s commitment to maintaining our annual farming budget for England at £2.4 billion per year on average over this Parliament, with all spend released through reducing area-based Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments made available to benefit the farming sector and farmers in England. Higher spend planned in the final year of the Parliament means we will spend an average of £2.4 billion per year over the Parliament, and is enabling us to meet increased demand for Countryside Stewardship and SFI this year and continue to keep scheme prices up to date, as well as funding a range of capital grants.
In 2022-23, we spent £1.37 billion on basic payments, having implemented two years of initial reductions. This compares with £1.8 billion in 2020/21 before we started phasing out the payments. Our spend on basic payments is reducing again this year to £1.1billion.
This flexible approach to allocating funding has enabled us to respond to farmer demand for our schemes in 2022/23 using the money made available in the budget by reducing basic payments. This includes more than doubling our spend on our environmental land management schemes; a higher annual spend on productivity and innovation grants; and more than doubling the funding available for the first round of the Slurry Infrastructure Grant due to very high demand.
In 2024, as we release more funding from area-based subsidy and bring forward available spend from previous years, we will see:
- The start of thousands of CS 2024 agreements, including more farmers in our higher-ambition Higher Tier than ever before;
- The continued roll out of our new and improved SFI 23 offer to thousands of farmers;
- Further spending on productivity, innovation and animal health and welfare grants;
- Increased funding for the Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme.
Notes to Editors:
The Farming and Countryside Programme annual report 2022 to 2023 has been published online: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/farming-and-countryside-programme-annual-report-2022-to-2023
This flexible approach to allocating funding has enabled us to respond to farmer demand for our schemes in 2022/23 using the money made available in the budget by reducing basic payments including:
- More than doubling our spend on our environmental land management schemes - from £430 million in 2020/21, with further significant increases planned in 2024/25 to fund anticipated demand for SFI, CS and other schemes this year:
- Almost twice as many Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements in 2023 compared to 2020;
- Increased payment rates for CS revenue and capital options;
- More than 4,000 farmers in the SFI pilot and initial SFI scheme;
- 22 Landscape Recovery projects covering over 45,000 hectares and working with over 250 farmers and landowners, and a second round of bids underway for 25 more projects;
- Significantly higher spending on other environmental schemes including Farming in Protected Landscapes, slurry management and animal health and welfare from £14 million in 2021/22 to more than £100 million in 2023/24.
- Higher annual spend on productivity and innovation grants from £120 million in 2020/21 to £205 million in 2023/24, with a further increase planned in 2024/25.
- More than doubling the funding available for the first round of the Slurry Infrastructure Grant from £13 million to nearly £34 million due to very high demand.
How has 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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