Following previous announcements on Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) registration of interest in Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023 finally became live from 30 August 2023. The application process is due to commence on 18 September 2023.
Earlier in August DEFRA clarified the SFI agreement payment requirements. These are that:
- The chosen SFI action must be completed within a 12-month period of the SFI agreement start date
- The submission of an annual declaration confirming compliance with the mandatory scheme requirements must be made during the last two months of the relevant agreement year
- Evidence of SFI scheme information on land eligibility, payments, actions and the agreement itself must be supplied when requested.
Further information relating to payments for SFI agreements can be found here.
The updated guidance also sets out that the annual payment will be divided into four equal instalments paid automatically on a quarterly basis. DEFRA advises that the first quarterly payment will usually be made in the fourth month after the start of the SFI agreement and the last payment will also be dependent on filing the annual submission with the Rural Payments Agency.
The original June 2023 guidance reminded applicants that: “SFI pays farmers to adopt and maintain sustainable farming practices that can protect and improve the environment” when they enter into a three year SFI agreement with DEFRA.
There are 23 standalone ‘pick and mix’ SFI actions within nine categories as follows:
- integrated pest management
- nutrient management
- farmland wildlife on arable and horticultural land
- farmland wildlife on improved grassland
- buffer strips
- low input grassland.
Each has its own detailed guidance (details of SFI actions). DEFRA has said that many actions have been brought forward from 2024, which is to be welcomed. Further developments are also expected in 2024 with a full set of options expected to be published later this year.
More information is available in the DEFRA SFI handbook which was updated on 10 August 2023.
The guidance also highlights that payments can also made outside of SFI for:
- An annual visit to farms to review the health and welfare of livestock and get advice about improvements that could be made
- Targeted actions relating to specific locations, features and habitats under Countryside Stewardship
- Bespoke, longer-term, larger scale environmental land management projects in order to enhance the natural environment under Landscape Recovery
- One off payments to purchase equipment or other capital items from existing offers e.g. under Countryside Stewardship and the Farming Investment Fund.
DEFRA also updated its general guidance on its funding for farmers, growers and land managers (including ELMS) on 24 August 2024, which can be found here.