How SFI is supporting sustainable food production

With a leading focus on soil health, the opening phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) supports farmers looking to improve their farm’s greatest asset. DEFRA’s Tom Lewis explains why and gives some early feedback on the new scheme’s progress.

“SFI is not about taking land out of production,” says Tom. “It’s about working with farmers to achieve environmental sustainability alongside productivity, with payments for providing public goods. The first of these ‘public goods’ is soil health.”

SFI offers standards agreements comprising a package of required actions. For soil health, the introductory level includes three actions, with an additional one in the intermediate level. New standards are due to be announced in January 2023.

“We’re keen that the SFI has realistic and varied options available, so farmers recognise the required actions are not only achievable but what many are already doing on farm. For example, those assessing their soils regularly have already ticked one box, so cover crops to minimise bare ground over winter or introducing herbal leys might be the next step.

“The agreements run for three years, with the opportunity to add more standards on an annual basis. With more standards and multiple levels, we’re supporting farmers wanting to keep raising the environmental bar.”

Accessibility is at the heart of the SFI

By mid-December, around 1,500 farmers had live agreements, averaging 100 new sign-ups each week and meeting DEFRA’s expectations. “We’ve worked hard to make this incentive accessible to farmers, with a simple online application and prompt payments. Feedback received so far, as well as the numbers signing up, show this to be true; we’re really pleased.

“Unlike other schemes and in response to farmer feedback, applications are open-ended without a deadline, so farmers can apply as and when it suits. Land can also be part of another scheme with payments aligned, so farmers already in a programme are not at a disadvantage – although they can’t receive double payments.”

Applications are open to all BPS-eligible farmers and made through the Rural Payments service. “The beauty of this new application process is that you can check your land’s eligibility and what you can do before making any decisions. So, my advice is to farmers is to have a look at what’s available, work out the payments and then make your decisions. It’s probably not as hard as you imagine.”

Click here for more information about the SFI.


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Future Farming

Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time.

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