Defra announce Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

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Hundreds of farmers will be invited to take part in a new scheme which will reward them for implementing sustainability measures, reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) trial, announced this week by Defra Secretary of State George Eustice at the NFU’s annual conference, is part of the plans to replace the EU subsidy scheme. It will be launched in October and be financially attractive enough to be a “no-brainer” for farmers to take part.

Mr Eustice confirmed that details on how to register interest in taking part in the SFI pilot would be published in March, with the aim to expand the scheme in future years. He also assured farmers that they will have any details they need by the end of June to allow time for adequate preparation for scheme implementation.

Participating farmers will be allowed to choose from a range of standards, based on features of the natural environment, such as grassland, hedgerows, water, woodland and soil, to protect nature and tackle climate change. Each standard will contain a number of actions farmers can apply to their own farms to receive payment.

The Secretary of State went on to promise much less administrative burden for farmers going forwards, as part of the post-Brexit UK:

“The ethos at the heart of our future policy is to support the choices of individual farm enterprises. The era of top-down EU rules is over. Some assets that were previously dubbed ‘ineligible features’ under the CAP, will start to have their value recognised.”

“We want farmers to be able to access the money and the advice they need to help them contribute to our net zero target, protect and restore the environment, and improve animal health and welfare on the land they manage – as well as helping their businesses become more productive and sustainable.

“We want to support confidence in UK food internationally, prevent environmental harm, and protect biosecurity and animal health and welfare. And we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take on their holdings, so we will work with you all to refine and develop the schemes we bring forward.”

Concerns have been previously raised about funding for future farming payments, with the old subsidies, based on the amount of land farmed, set to be cut by 50% by 2024, and the replacement environmental land management scheme not being fully rolled out until the end of the same year.

Responding to the announcement, NFU president Minette Batters said that there is “enormous enthusiasm” for the sustainable farming incentive scheme, but farmers want to see details of the policy and its delivery, and it is absolutely essential to get it right.

Also unveiled at the conference was a new report from the NFU called “Levelling up rural Britain”, highlighting how British farming and rural Britain can provide the solution to many of the challenges the nation faces by driving sustainable food production and pioneering food policy that produces carbon-neutral food.

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