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Farmers who successfully expressed an interest in joining a pilot version of Defra’s new environmental scheme should now work up their applications. Autumn start-date for pilot environmental scheme

Scenic view of hay bales in a field around sunset time

Farmers who successfully expressed an interest in joining a pilot version of Defra’s new environmental scheme should now work up their applications.

Some 2,178 farmers responded to Defra’s call for applicants to join the pilot Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). It is one of three new schemes which will reward farmers for undertaking environmental work, including climate change mitigation.

Defra says it has now contacted shortl-listed candidates who expressed an interest in the SFI. It says those farmers should now start working on their applications ahead of a start-date this October.

The pilot SFI will test government plans to reward farmers for sustainable farming practices. Details about the other two schemes – Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery – will be published later this year.

Operating together, the schemes will pay for actions that support sustainable farming methods alongside profitable food production. They seek to improve animal health and welfare, improve environmental outcomes, and reduce carbon emissions.

 Habitat creation

The schemes will create habitats for nature recovery and make landscape-scale changes. This includes establishing new woodland, providing key means to deliver against the goals of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and Net Zero targets.

Defra minister Victoria Prentis said: “We want farmers to manage their businesses in a way that achieves profitable food production and the recovery of nature.

“It is great to see so many farmers wanting to get involved in the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot scheme. We want to design our future policies in conjunction with farmers across England to ensure that they are as straightforward and effective as possible.”

Defra said it was working in partnership with the Rural Payments Agency to deliver the pilot. Once up and running, it will gather ongoing data from horticulture, dairy, pig, poultry and grazing livestock farms across England.

Roll-out timetable

Participants will take part in a range of activities, providing rapid feedback on their experience of all aspects of the pilot. This will ensure the scheme is tested, fully workable and user-friendly once fully rolled out from 2024.

In the first phase of the pilot, participants will be able to select from an initial set of eight standards to build their own agreements. The standards will promote cleaner air and water, and guard against environmental risks such as climate change and flooding.

Within each standard there are three levels for participants to choose from: introductory, intermediate and advanced. Each level is more challenging – and more rewarding – than the previous level and delivers greater environmental benefits.

Defra says there will be more opportunities to participate in future phases of the pilot. More growers and livestock producers will be able to join the progressive roll-out of the SFI scheme from next year.

To discover how you can measure your farm sustainability, read here.