SFI offer “hugely expanded” from July

Defra has quadrupled the actions available to farmers, and added a new, expanded offer for upland farmers, as well as agroforestry and precision farming actions.

British farm with two lambs in the foreground
Image by wirestock/Freepik

Defra has today (21st May) published an ‘expanded and improved’ SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive), which will be available to farmers from July. 

The expanded SFI offer will be open to new entrants for the first time. It will initially comprise 102 actions – up from 23 – including over 20 new options to support more sustainable food production.

There will be payments for precision farming, agroforestry, a new and expanded offer for upland farmers and more actions for tenants on short-term contracts. 

Furthermore, new actions will support flood preparedness, helping farmers become more resilient to challenging weather conditions.      

The current scheme has received 23,000 applications.

SFI and Mid Tier combined

Also from July, more than 50 simplified actions from Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier will be merged into SFI to streamline the application process, Defra added. 

These include a number of actions where durations have been reduced from five to three years, to align with the needs of tenant farmers. 

READ MORE: SFI cap welcomed by farming groups

Additionally, the government has launched a new digital tool – ‘Find funding for land or farms’ to signpost farmers toward the funding that is available to them.

The department said it is developing more actions and features to be added to the expanded SFI offer later this year, including an educational access action. 

CS Higher Tier

Meanwhile, this summer, Defra will publish information on who is eligible for CS Higher Tier, how to apply and request specialist advice.

Applications will open in the winter, with agreements starting in January 2025. 

Defra said it has been improving the offer, making it simpler and reducing the burden of seeking advice and endorsement.    

READ MORE: What government grants can farmers apply for now?

Increased payments

At the NFU Conference in February, the prime minister announced an average 10% increase in payment rates for SFI and CS agreements.

These payments will be made for the first time this summer – split across quarterly payments in the first year.

Difficult circumstances

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “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.      

“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.”    

NFU response

Responding to the changes, NFU deputy president David Exwood said the union was pleased the new offer appears to be “improved, broader and more flexible”.

“Farmers and growers will need to take a close look at the latest developments provided by Defra and consider how these can be applied on farm,” he said. 

“They include a hugely expanded SFI offer from 23 to 102 actions following a merger of SFI with CS Mid Tier, with a new improved moorland offer.

“This recognises the role hill farmers play in producing our food and looking after some of our most challenging and iconic farming landscapes. “

NFU urged Defra to provide details of the new CS Higher Tier scheme as soon as possible. This will help those ending agreements or wanting to transfer from Higher Level Stewardship.

Mr Exwood added that Defra and the RPA must now ensure there are resources and clear timelines for appliations, to make the schemes a success.

“All farming sectors are feeling the squeeze following the cumulative loss of direct payments over the past four years and the slow transition to the ELM scheme.”

It’s vital the next government looks at the farming budget to ensure British farming is “resilient and thriving” and farmers can contribute to national food security, he concluded.

READ MORE: How could SFI impact your pulse crops? 

Controlled roll out

The Rural Payments Agency will invite a mix of farmers into a controlled roll out of the expanded SFI offer at the end of the month – before it becomes fully self service in July.

To be part of the controlled toll out, you can complete an expression of interest on the RPA website.

Applications will open to the wider sector, based on eligibility, on 22nd July.     

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