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Government cash for organic and nature-friendly farming

Government cash for organic and nature-friendly farming

The government has issued its long-awaited update to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which clarifies and, in some cases, expands on the funding available for farmers and growers

The latest manifestation, unveiled earlier last week by Mark Spencer MP, Minister for Food Farming and Fisheries, lists 23 actions that farmers and land managers can adopt voluntarily. They reward farmers and growers who are delivering benefits for all of us, protecting and improving the environment alongside producing our food.

Major update for sustainable farming funding

This post-Brexit farm policy is the result of six years of negotiation between civil servants, the farming industry, and environmental organisations. Soil Association Organic Sector Development Advisor Adrian Steele has been part of these negotiations and has been urging government to back farmers who work with nature across their entire farm, like organic and agroecological farmers. He said: “These incentives are genuinely groundbreaking – farmers finally have a practical plan of action.

“It may not be hugely ambitious, but it is likely to embed good practice into the farmed environment. Organic farmers will be better rewarded for their stewardship of the land, but we will need to delve into the details before being sure that the reward will be adequate.

“We suspect that all farming organisations and environmental groups will find some things fall short of their expectations, but will at least be relieved that something real and deliverable is on the table.

“However, time is against Defra to tackle the climate and nature emergencies and hit the targets established under the Environmental Improvement Plan. Every effort must be made to ensure mass take-up of funding and sustainable farming.

“To secure the future of farming in England, this latest version has to succeed.”

Funding for nature-friendly farming is vital for reducing carbon emissions

The SFI establishes the core funding structure, giving farmers a simplified framework for applying for grants. Options include funding for action on soil health, rewarding growing a mix of grasses, legumes, and herbs, and promoting wildlife on arable and horticultural land by rewarding the planting of flower mixes that encourage pollinators.

 Other options include funding for establishing and maintaining hedgerows, planting companion crops, and stopping the use of insecticide. More actions are to be announced in the Autumn. It is expected that this will include agroforestry, which may include funding for orchards – these rewards are expected to be in addition to the payments in this round.

Funding is available for all farms

The Soil Association is encouraging farmers to apply for these grants. The charity’s farming team, which offers advice to any farmer, are running Future Farm Resilience webinars on available support to clarify funding options. These will be particularly relevant to farmers currently receiving soils payments under previous SFI rules, who will now have to reapply. The Soil Association is in discussion with Defra on some specific questions and clarifications and will provide updates on their responses as soon as possible.

The organisation will continue to urge the government to ensure future funding goes further and provides clear funding for whole-farm incentives.

For more information and advice, sign up for the Future Farm Resilience Programme or contact FFR@soilassociation.org. In addition, we will be updating our website once we have obtained further information and clarification from Defra.