Government plans to overhaul the farm support system took another step forward last month when Defra published details of its Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).
The SFI will form the entry level of the forthcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme – which will eventually be phased in as the annual basic payment is phased out starting later this year.
Some 2000 farmers said they were interested in taking part in a pilot version of the SFI. It will see them rewarded for undertaking sustainable farming practices – including measures aimed at looking after the environment.
Defra say it wants the scheme to be as simple and straightforward as possible. It is working in partnership with the Rural Payments Agency to deliver the pilot, which will gather ongoing information from a range of participating farm types.
Participants will take part in a range of activities, providing rapid feedback on their experience of all aspects of the pilot. Defra says 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.
Although the window for farmers to express an interest in joining the first phase of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot is now closed, Defra says there will be more opportunities to participate in future phases of the pilot.
It is vital that the pilot scheme works. And that means farmers must be adequately rewarded for the environmental work they are expected to undertake. Otherwise the scheme will fail before it starts.
We will be watching progress with interest.