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Rural: An introduction to the Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot

Fri 5 March 2021

DEFRA will soon be inviting farmers to apply to join the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) pilot. A scheme in which farmers will be paid for environmentally sustainable actions such as contributing towards cleaner water, cleaner air and carbon reduction.

The pilot will open for expression of interest shortly and will involve an initial group of several hundred farmers. In March 2022, DEFRA will begin rolling out the scheme to recipients of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

How will it work?

The SFI pilot will concentrate on building on what DEFRA are learning from tests and trials that began in 2018; for example, how payments are best made, and which land management plans are successful.

The pilot will be split, and paid, into two parts:

  • Land Management Actions
  • Costs Associated with taking part in Learning Activities

The payments will be made in monthly arrears from the date that the pilot agreement starts.

Land Management Actions

Those taking part in the first phase pilot will be responsible, and paid for, contributing towards a ‘standard’, of which they will be able to select from eight, designed to create greener landscapes, improve biodiversity and tackle climate change. Whilst we don’t know what the eight standards are as of yet, we know that each will be split into three levels of participation: Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced. As the pilot progresses, new standards will be developed and introduced.

We will update you as soon as we have further information about what the eight standards actually are and the payment bands. None of the standards will pay for things that are minimum expectations required by law.

DEFRA have announced that the actions taken to contribute to standards will not be complicated and do not require experience with agri-environmental schemes. For example, planting hedgerows.

Learning Activities

As part of the pilot, participants will take part in various ‘learning activities’ such as surveys, interviews, group meetings and workshops (expected to take around 15 hours per month and are designed to gather feedback on the pilot scheme). The payment for this will be the same for each participant and will be released alongside the land management action payment information.

Are you eligible to apply to take part?

For the first phase of piloting, a farmer is only eligible if they: 

  • are a recipient of the Basic Payments Scheme, registered on the Rural Payments Agency system
  • enter land parcels (fields) into the pilot that do not have an existing agri-environment agreement on them
  • have management control of the land for the duration of the pilot. They must either own the land with management control or have a tenancy of enough length to implement their pilot agreement (including landlord’s permission if required)
  • enter land parcels that are in England 
  • enter land parcels that are not common land 

Eligibility is likely to be extended at a later date for those farmers that are either not eligible, or do not claim, for BPS.

Commenting on the pilot, Charles Raine, Director at youngsRPS said: “We expect expression of interest for the SFI pilot to open in the coming weeks. This is the first phase of the rollout and business should not be concerned if they do not take part from the outset, it is however important to trial the schemes.

Over the past few years, it has become more and more important for our clients to apply for funding under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in preparation for future agri-environment schemes and to make their business more resilient and sustainable. The current Countryside Stewardship Schemes will remain in place until 2023, with the final round of agreements starting in January 2024. The SFI pilot is likely to have a high level of expression of interest, and in this case, farmers will be selected at random to apply in full, therefore we urge farmers to look at Countryside Stewardship Schemes as means of preparation for future pilots and the introduction of ELMS.”

To talk to our team about eligibility or expression of interest for the SFI pilot, or to discuss the Countryside Stewardship options that are best suited to your business, please contact:

Alnwick | Helen Proud
Hexham | Charles Raine
Sedgefield | Joanne Metcalfe
Northallerton | James Thompson