SFI and ELMs update, September 2023
Defra is encouraging land managers to register Expressions of Interest in the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) 2023 online with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). Although there have been glitches in the system, these are being corrected, and RPA staff are dealing with more complex cases on a one to one basis.
Ironing out the glitches - SFI 2022 to SFI 2023
There has been frustration amongst land managers who entered into the National Pilot, and/or the SFI 2022 that they may miss out on the new higher payment rates and options. This has led to widespread concern amongst potential SFI 2023 applicants that they may miss out on a better package in 2024 if they commit now.
Defra sources today (19 September 2023) confirmed that the SFI 2022 agreement holders, and those wishing to exit the National Pilot, should go ahead and register their Expression of Interest in SFI 2023, and then wait for the RPA to terminate their existing agreements, in order to allow full access to the new scheme.
Defra also confirmed that there would be no downside for those who take up SFI 2023 when the new range of actions for 2024 become available. Delaying an application would just mean missing out on a year's payment. As to whether payment rates may go down after application, on the basis of there not being enough money available, a Defra source indicated that there ‘was no plausible scenario … that the money will run out.’
Countryside Stewardship (CS) options to remain, meaning continued support for organic
Defra also confirmed that although CS options will be examined and integrated further with SFI, no options would disappear in to 2024, indicating that support for organic farming is safeguarded.
But take note - SAM3 herbal leys
One small detail of relevance to SFI 2023 claimants is that you cannot stack the herbal ley option SAM3 on top of a field entered in to Countryside Stewardship as Low Input Grassland.
Removing minimum 5/ha for eligibility into SFI
A further indication was given that Defra will be abolishing the minimum requirement of 5 hectares for eligibility into SFI next year - a belated but significant change, and one that we have been advocating for many years. No specific assurances are forthcoming yet about a Farm Woodland Standard, but there is still modelling and testing taking place. New actions that will be rewarded in SFI 2024 were alluded to, mostly around better targeting of pesticides and synthetic inputs, with consequent imperatives to better protect water courses with buffer strips.
Changes still to come
It was acknowledged that the Future Farming package was in a ‘messy’ phase, and that there would be a move towards aligning the schemes over the next couple of years. However, that was felt to be preferable to having a ‘big bang’ sudden change. Only time will tell; a lot hinges on getting a really good uptake of both SFI and CS this year, if Defra is going to have a chance of hitting its mandated targets under the Environmental Improvement Plan.
Future proof your farm - Future Farm Resilience workshops and one-to-one follow-ups
We're holding a series of webinars and regional workshops to guide you through new support and payments, including the most up to date information available. Find out more on our events page.