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  More than 10,000 farmers have now applied to join the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) – and receive payments actions that support food production... Thousands apply for Sustainable Farming Incentive

 

More than 10,000 farmers have now applied to join the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) – and receive payments actions that support food production and the environment.

One-in-eight eligible farmers having submitted applications for the Defra scheme in the four months since it re-opened last September. This is on top of the 32,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements which are already in place.

The SFI pays farmers for taking actions that support farm productivity and resilience while protecting and enhancing the environment. Defra said it had attracted applications from farmers across the country, with every type and size of farm business represented.

As of January, 174,000ha of arable land are now being managed without insecticides. A further 71,000ha of low input grassland are focused on improving sustainability, and almost 15,000km of hedgerows are under management.

It comes as Defra also announces the winners of the On-Farm Environmental Resilience competition, with projects awarded a share of £12.2m in funding to solve long-term challenges to plants, crops and livestock.

Defra farm minister Mark Spencer said: “The Sustainable Farming Incentive has something on offer for every type of farm business, so it’s pleasing to see the scheme proving popular with farmers across England.

“For those who have not yet applied, I encourage you to take a look at how the scheme could work for your business so you can join the thousands of other farmers already getting paid.”

The relaunched scheme includes a simpler application process – developed by Defra following farmer feedback. There are 50 new management options for farmers to choose from and a 10% average increase in payments.

Help and advice

Farmers joining the scheme can be in Countryside Stewardship at the same time – so long as the actions they choose are compatible. Some 23 actions are already on offer with more to follow when the scheme expands this summer.

Urging farmers to apply sooner rather than later, Defra said this would ensure growers could benefit from funding available now. They could then add actions to their agreements annually – or have multiple agreements – if they wanted to carry out further actions.

Sector-specific webinars will be held this March to give farmers and land managers a chance to give their feedback and learn more about SFI. Farmers can find out more about upcoming webinars and Defra regional events by visiting www.defra.gov.uk.

Defra representatives will be on stands at agricultural shows this summer with more information as it is announced. Farmers can also access free business advice through the Farming Resilience Fund, or by calling the Rural Payment Service helpline on 03000 200 301.

Key appointments for farming and environment team

Land agents and farm business advisers Bidwells has made two appointments to its agriculture and environment team.

In a senior consultancy role, Michael Muncey worked for Bayer in Europe before being appointed country manager for the company in the UK and Ireland. He will provide consultancy about enhancing farm and agricultural assets to landowners across the UK.

Matthew Page joined Bidwells as a graduate consultant after finishing a degree in agriculture at Harper Adams University. He will deliver farm management and consultancy services, with a key interest in the sustainability of modern agriculture.

Ian Ashbridge, partner in Bidwells agriculture and environment team said: “Both Michael and Matthew’s appointments are really exciting as they will continue to strengthen the knowledge and skills within our team.

“The agricultural outlook is changing fast, as post-Brexit policy begins to be implemented and the transition away from area-based support payments takes effect. While prices for soft commodities have increased sharply, farm businesses are also seeing unprecedented cost pressure.”