News / Sustainable Farming Campaign

Defra launch the new farm support scheme pilot and invite farmers to get involved

Defra have today announced more details of the first pilot, open to farmers, of the Sustainable Farm Incentive (SFI) scheme which will, along with other schemes, make up the new approach to supporting English farmers. Sustain comments. 

credit: V Hird

credit: V Hird

** Updated to include the new Defra Call for Expressions of Interest (15 March) **

Defra have announced the new SFI scheme pilot where farmers participating with be paid for both land management actions, and for a participation rate for the work and costs associated with taking part in learning activities.

Farmers can show expressions of interest in a short form and Defra will choose a random selection if oversubscribed, to ensure a representative geographic and sector sample, who will be invited to send in a full application in June. The first agreements will go live in October 2021.

There will be 8 standards they can choose to join in this first pilot -

  • arable and horticultural land standard
  • arable and horticultural soils standard
  • improved grassland standard
  • improved grassland soils standard
  • low and no input grassland standard
  • hedgerow standard
  • on farm woodland standard
  • waterbody buffering standard

 and 3 levels of ambition (introductory, intermediate and advanced). Eligibility rules will be defined for each standard.

We have the following comments on the details presented today.

"The Sustain alliance welcomes the approach of ‘public money for public goods’ and that Defra want to create a scheme that is accessible for all farmers. The pilot phases and learning will be invaluable for setting up the full scheme and we welcome the decision to pay farmers for the time spent in delivering that learning. We welcome news that forms of a land management plan will be tested and that we have more details of the payments and standards."

However, we remain concerned that the scheme could exclude some farm systems. 

"Only those in receipt of Basic Payment can apply which will exclude several sectors, and the pilot could end up excluding a significant proportion of the English farming sector through its design. For example, gap analysis by the English Organic Forum (EOF) shows that current SFI standard thinking is simply not workable for organic farmers. This would also be an issue for others who take a holistic approach, such as 100% pasture-fed. Agroforestry, a huge opportunity to deliver multiple on-farm benefits is also not included. The next pilots must include standards that work for organic and other agro-ecological systems and for the uplands."

"We are also yet to have any commitment to remove the 5 hectare minimum limit which excludes many smaller productive horticultural type farming businesses.  Defra have also stated they will, in March 2022, start to roll out the scheme only to recipients of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which may further exclude farmers and growers. "

"We have yet to see a clear vision from government for these schemes and English farming.  Agro-ecoogical farm systems that restore nature and deliver carbon sequestration should be a key part of theat vision."

"This pilot should not leave out thousands of farming enterprises, many of which have been leading the way on sustainable farming in the UK."

Read the Defra announcement here.

Our recent paper outlines the need for ELM to include provision to support agroecological whole farm systems, here.


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Published 10 Mar 2021

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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