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Defra Announce Details on the First Version of Sustainable Farming Incentive

Yesterday (2nd December 2021), Defra announced details on the first version of Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), set to open for applications in Spring 2022. It is the first of the three new environmental land management schemes. 

Defra are aiming for a 70% uptake of the SFI by 2028 and this is the first step in achieving this. The scheme launches in 2022 and aims to enhance the health and fertility of soils, assess the current condition of moorlands and contribute to the UK’s efforts to reach Net Zero. 

The scheme will be administered by the RPA and anyone who has claimed BPS in England will be eligible to apply. The SFI will operate at a land parcel level, meaning that farmers can choose how many of their fields they want to enter into the SFI. Schemes will last for 3 years, with the opportunity to add or amend the agreement every 12 months.  If you’re in an existing agri-environmental scheme you are still able to apply as long as the measures undertaken do not overlap with the SFI, you can only be paid for one activity once. The application window will be open for 10 weeks next year and once in a scheme, payments will be made quarterly. 

There are three standards that you can apply for under the SFI in 2022. 

•    the Arable and Horticultural Soils standard
•    the Improved Grassland Soils standard
•    the Moorland and Rough Grazing standard (introductory level) 

As more standards and levels are introduced, you can add them to your agreement at 12 monthly review points. 

Annual Health and Welfare Review 

Anyone with more than 50 pigs, 20 sheep or 10 cattle will be able to apply for an annual health and welfare review visit from a vet or vet led team.   Funding is available for three years and will pay for a 2-3 hour visit focusing on key elements such as biosecurity, diagnostic testing, medicine, antibiotic and vaccine use. Recommendations and ways to monitor the livestock will be suggested, with data being collected. The payment rates per group are: 
•    Pigs - £684
•    Sheep - £436
•    Beef cattle - £522
•    Dairy cattle - £372

Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard 

The introductory level of moorland and rough grazing pays £148 per agreement per year plus a variable payment rate of £6.45 per hectare. This standard is not yet finalised and as such you can only apply for the introductory level. The aim of the standard is to assess the state of current moorland soils and habitats, for land above the moorline. For this you are expected to: 
•    Verify and record soil types, including peatland, peat status and associated vegetation through as sample based approach, with one sample per 10/ha per year
•    Evaluate the public goods potential and condition of the moorland
•    Identify opportunities to maintain or enhance public goods

Arable and horticultural soils standard and Improved grassland soils standard

Both soils standards include a large element of soil testing, focusing on soil organic matter. All land has to be tested every 5 years, which is a step up from the current farming rules for land and water. You also need to undertake a soil assessment and from this produce a soil management plan. The plan should be produced in the first year and reviewed annually. 
Focusing on reducing bare ground over winter is key in both standards, with a requirement of 95% of land for improved grassland an 70% winter cover for the arable and horticultural standard. Improving organic matter is also a key element of the arable and horticultural standard. 

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard

•    Introductory level – £22 per hectare
•    Intermediate level – £40 per hectare
•    Advanced level – coming in 2023

Improved Grassland Soils Standard

•    Introductory level – £28 per hectare
•    Intermediate level – £58 per hectare
•    Advanced level – coming in 2023 

Future of the SFI
Defra are making it clear that the launch of this SFI is definitely a work in progress, allowing them to make amendments and refine the scheme as time goes on. As time progresses more standards and levels of existing standards will be accessible, with the full range being available from 2025. Capital items will also become available.

Lottie Hill