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The pledge follows NFU criticism that the government is forging ahead with the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme without giving farmers the opportunity... Defra faces criticism for SFI rollout

Payments to farmers who join the government’s Sustainable Farming Incentive will be made before the year-end, says Defra.

The pledge follows NFU criticism that the government is forging ahead with the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme without giving farmers the opportunity to recoup at least some of the lost income because the SFI still isn’t fully up and running.

NFU president Minette Batters says the loss of the BPS is a major reason many farmers are facing a cash-flow crisis this coming winter.

The roll-out of farm support measures including the SFI remains “a million miles” away from government commitments, she warned.

‘Essential support’

“Farmers will be pleased government has listened to them, but the backdrop to these pieces of good news is that many farmers continue to face a bleak end to the year, with money they were promised, and rely on, not coming.

“While we have been working hard to prepare for changes to the essential support schemes that support farming and environmental management, delays in the roll-out of the new scheme, coupled with reductions in the current scheme, mean most farmers have been unable to access the new SFI while facing significant holes in their finances from the withdrawal of BPS.”

A revised SFI opened for applications last month. It aims to pay farmers to take actions that support food production, farm profitability and resilience, whilst protecting and enhancing the environment.

The 2023 offer has been expanded and made more flexible, says Defra. It says it made the move in response to farmer feedback and now offers more than twice as many new SFI actions as originally planned.

Some 23 paid-for actions are on offer. They include hedgerow and nutrient management, farmland wildlife and low input grassland.

Further improvements to the scheme mean farmers can choose what combination of actions are right for them, says Defra.

Registered interest

Thousands of farm businesses of all types and sizes have registered their interest in the SFI, says the government. Invitations to apply have been issued and scaled up to get applicants on board and ensure a good service for farmers, it adds.

Farmers with a live SFI agreement before the end of the year will receive their first quarterly payment – typically worth 25% of the annual value of their agreement – by the end of this year. But this amount will still be dwarfed by the lost BPS income.

Defra says payments will typically be made in the first month of an agreement starting. And it says there will be no cap on what individual farmers can do in the scheme or overall numbers of applications.

Defra secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “We’ll be working to get as many farmers onto the scheme as quickly as possible, so that they get payments in their pockets and are rewarded for the enthusiasm with which they are embracing this scheme.”