Supporting farmers to deliver environmental goods
There are currently three schemes, however it is planned to combine SFI and Countryside Stewardship into one integrated online service with the option to ‘pick and mix’ according to local requirements.
Sustainable Farming Incentive – Encouraging environmentally sustainable farming
The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will pay farmers to adopt and maintain sustainable farming practices that can protect and improve the environment.
Farmers would be paid for measures on their land that help address their direct environmental impacts. These could include nutrient management, pest control, soil improvement, cover crops or planting wildflower margins to encourage sustainable farming.
There are eight SFI standards planned for 2023 (SFI 2023) in addition to an annual health and welfare review by a Vet.
- Soils (SAM 1-3)
- Moorland (MOR1)
- Hedgerows (HRW1-3)
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM1-4)
- Nutrient management (NUM1-3)
- Wildlife on arable and horticultural land (AHL1-4)
- Wildlife on improved grassland (IGK 1-3)
- Low input grassland (LIG 1-2)
Countryside Stewardship (CS)
This scheme pays for targeted actions specific to locations, features and habitats in support of Defra’s 25 year environment plan.
There is a focus on local needs and reward collaboration between land managers where a scheme encompasses more than one stakeholder.
Note the proposed Local Nature Recovery scheme has been dropped in favour of CS.
The grants include:
- Mid Tier and wildlife offers – options for enhancing natural environment
- Higher Tier – these are of environmentally important habitats requiring complex management
- Catchment Sensitive Farming
- Farming in protected landscapes
- Woodland Management Plan
- Woodland Tree Health
- Implementation and feasibility studies
- Facilitation fund to support individuals who bring together groups
Landscape Recovery – Landscape scale, land-use change projects
These projects would aim to deliver more ambitious environmental targets, such as nature recovery and net zero carbon emissions. It might include woodland creation, peatland restoration and the creation of coastal habitats. These projects will be funded individually.
- Round one - first competitive round opened 2022 with 22 projects funded
- Round two (Spring 2023) – themes net zero, protected sites and habitat creation
- Round three – to open 2024
Support during the transition to ELMs
The government’s Agricultural Transition Plan covers the period 2020 – 2027 and includes some new funding for technology adoption during the period when the Basic Payment Scheme is phased out and ELMs begins.
This includes the Farm Investment Fund, which offers grants for investment in some types of agri-tech to cover a proportion of the total cost of investment:
- equipment and technology for storing, sorting, or processing products
- robotic or automated technology
- on-farm water storage infrastructure, including reservoir
2020 – 2024 Countryside Stewardship – those on CS will be able to transition to ELMs
2020 – 2023 ELM scheme design
2020 – 2027 ELM tests and trials on specific elements (43 projects at Aug 2021)
2021 – 2027 Direct payments to be phased out
2021 – 2024 National pilot for real world testing, 5,500 farmers over 3-year period
2027 Direct payments to end
Agri-tech to support ELMs
Before launching the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) a number of pilots were run to test the methods for assessing improvements. Agri-TechE members have been involved in these trials and a meeting was held in March 2022 to discuss the pilots, the learning points and the opportunities for improved agri-tech.
Feedback from the Test and Trial scheme was reported on June 2021.
Among recommendations from farmers, landowners and advisors on how to structure the scheme and payments there were also a number of observations about the need for improved tools and processors to support adoption of measures to reduce negative environmental impacts.
In particular, farmers wanted a guide or template for the Land Management Plan (LMP) that could be used to identify the environmental outcomes that could be delivered on their land.
This LMP should include:
- Map of the farm with basic farm details
- Environmental baseline that documents and rewards existing public goods delivery
- Public goods delivery assessment that acknowledges existing standards and certification
- Assessment of aspirations and opportunities to enhance the quality and quantity of natural capital
Tools required to deliver this would include:
- Digital mapping tools and those for remote monitoring
- Natural capital data sets that are shared and can be ground-truthed
- Baseline assessments – nutrients, soil quality, pollinators
- Tools to support self-assessment, ie uploading photographs
A number of companies within the Agri-TechE ecosystem are work on technologies with relevance to ELMs.
The new handbook issued by Defra has addressed many of the outputs from the meeting - find it on the Sustainable Farming Incentive website.
Briefing last modified July 2023.