Sustainable Farming Incentive Now Open for Applications
Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) applications are now officially open, there is no longer a requirement to submit an expression of interest. SFI is dubbed as a bigger and more straightforward Agri-environment scheme when compared to its predecessors such as Countryside Stewardship (CS), applications are simpler and the management requirements are a lot less onerous. Agreements have a duration of three years rather than the usual five and Tenants don’t need Landlord consent before making an application, although you should always check the terms of your tenancy agreement.
There are 23 actions currently available, although a large proportion of these are already available under CS, albeit with more involved management restrictions, payment rates are the same across schemes. However, there are some new actions, companion cropping and no insecticide use on arable land paying £55/ha and £45/ha respectively. There are further actions for hedgerows not available under CS, including hedgerow condition assessments and maintaining/establishing hedgerow trees. For grassland farms, if a herbal ley isn’t appropriate, you can be paid £102/ha for maintaining legumes within your permanent grassland swards, to name only a few. All SFI agreement holders will be paid an annual management payment, of £20/ ha up to a maximum of £1,000.
CS has often been criticized for its payment structure, despite costs often being incurred upfront, you would be paid at the end of the year in one lump payment. SFI payments are going to be made quarterly in arrears, which will work better for many businesses’ cashflows. It is possible to overlay a new SFI agreement on the same land as an existing CS agreement as long as there is no double funding, ie. paying for the same actions twice. However, one drawback of SFI is there isn’t a function to allow capital items to be included within an agreement. It is still possible to apply for capital items, however, it will have to be as a separate CS Capital Items only application and it is worth noting that there are fewer justifications for some popular items such as fencing under a capital-only scheme when compared to a CS Mid-Tier scheme.
There is likely to be something for everyone under SFI and perhaps more so moving forward, SFI will evolve over time with more actions being added in years to come, for 2024 we are expecting to see minimum tillage, direct drilling and precision agriculture actions to be announced. Whilst SFI is certainly welcome, it will still be beneficial for some farmers/land managers to enter into CS too to capitalize on some of the enhanced management options carrying a higher payment rate.
So what’s best, SFI or CS? Unfortunately, the answer to this question will be different for every farm and both should be considered carefully before making an application, if you would like to discuss this, please do not hesitate to contact Jack White at firstname.lastname@example.org.