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The first early payments have been made to farmers who signed up to Defra’s revised Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) agri-environment scheme. Early payments, worth... First early payments made under Sustainable Farming Incentive

The first early payments have been made to farmers who signed up to Defra’s revised Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) agri-environment scheme.

Early payments, worth 25% of the annual value of SFI agreements, were made in mid-October – just one month after the start of applications.  Defra said the money would help to improve cashflow and make sure SFI works for their farm business.

The SFI pays farmers to take action that supports food production, farm profitability and resilience – while protecting and enhancing the environment. Defra said more than 14,000 farmers had registered interest in the scheme, with almost 1,000 applications submitted.

Easier applications

Rather than registering first, most farmers can now apply directly online, simplifying the application process. But farmers on commons should continue to express their interest with the Rural Payments Agency ahead of a full application later.

Defra secretary Therese Coffey said: “I am delighted by the number of agreements already in place for the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive and that farmers are now being paid. I encourage all farmers to get involved and see what the scheme can offer your farm business.”

She added: “We are engaging with farmers and taking onboard their feedback to continually improve the scheme, including delivering on our commitment to introduce early payments and taking steps to simplify the application process.”

Defra says revising the scheme earlier this year means the SFI has something on offer for every type of farmer. It says will be processing applications as quickly as possible to get more payments into pockets this year and help farmers improve their cash flow.

Rural Payments Agency chief executive Paul Caldwell said: “We understand the importance of cashflow for farmers and hope the measures we have taken will assist in making a difference at an important time.”

The SFI is the entry level of the government’s Environmental Land Management scheme. The target is for 70% of farmers to join the SFI, says Defra. Mr Caldwell said: “We are continuing to work hard on getting more and more farmers involved in SFI.”

Improvements would continue to be made to ELM schemes to ensure they work best for farmers, said Mr Caldwell. This would include bringing forward early payments in a way which would not have been possible under the Common Agricultural Policy.

The 2023 SFI offer has been expanded and made more flexible in response to farmer feedback. It now includes more than 23 paid-for actions – such as hedgerow improvements, nutrient management, farmland wildlife and low input grassland.

Other improvements mean farmers can choose what combination of actions are right for them – unlike previously where actions were grouped into standards.

Additional income from carbon farming

Farmers are being invited to join a soil carbon programme – and create a new revenue stream by adopting regenerative practices.

The soil carbon programme for harvest year 2024 has been launched by AgreenaCarbon, Europe’s largest soil carbon platform. Now open for its fourth year, the scheme helps farmers finance their transition to regenerative agriculture.

More than one million hectares have been registered with the programme. AgreenaCarbon says it has already paid farmers more than EU6 million, with UK farmers earning EU36 per carbon certificate from their regenerative farming practices.

“Through regenerative practices — such as no-till, min-till, and the growing of cover crops — farmers can play a key role in the delivery of climate change mitigation services,” says Agreena commercial director Niels Vittrup.

Farmers in the programme agree to undertake a range of measures, such as optimal use of cover crops and reduced soil disturbance. Mr Vittrup said: “Farmers need to be financially rewarded for providing these vital services and AgreenaCarbon does just that.”

Agreena’s internationally accredited and third-party validated programme quantifies the farm’s greenhouse gas reductions and carbon removals and issues the verified CO2e certificates.

Farmers can keep the certificates, trade them on the voluntary carbon market (VCM), or let Agreena sell them on their behalf. An early payout option is also available for farmers, with funding provided by Agreena before certificates are issued.

Agreena says UK  farmers are facing unprecedented challenges, including economic and political uncertainty, changing weather patterns, and the reduction and eventual disappearance of the Basic Payment Scheme.