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Sustainable Farming Incentive: information about the rollout of our new environmental scheme

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: environmental land management schemes, Sustainable Farming Incentive
Natural England/R Harris
Natural England/R Harris

Today at the Cereals 2021 agricultural show,  our Secretary of State, George Eustice, announced further information about the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme, which farmers will be able  to sign up to from next spring.

We have published new information on GOV.UK about the early rollout of this scheme including what farmers will be able to get rewarded for if they sign up.

In this post I’ll provide a summary of what will be on offer through the scheme and what we’re doing ahead of opening the scheme up to farmers next year.

Purpose of the scheme 

As we said in the Agricultural Transition Plan, the Sustainable Farming Incentive is a new environmental land management scheme that will reward farmers for adopting more sustainable farming approaches.

The scheme will be relevant to all types of farms as we want to bring more land and more farms into environmental management than ever before,  building on the already excellent practices on many farms. For those already in schemes, we want the Sustainable Farming Incentive to provide additional ways for farmers to be rewarded.

The scheme is being designed to attract a wide range of farmers so we can achieve large scale benefits for the climate, environment, and animal health and welfare, as early as possible in the transition period.

We have developed the scheme so far through a process of co-design and will be doing more of this in the coming months.

We have already begun to learn about different aspects of the scheme through Tests and Trials, and will be learning even more through the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot. We would like to thank all those who are taking part for their time and commitment to helping design a scheme that works.

What farmers can get rewarded for through the early rollout

When we refer to the “early rollout” of the scheme we mean that a version of the scheme will open in 2022. The scheme will then grow and adapt over time to involve a larger number of standards and farmers by 2024/25.

From spring 2022 the scheme will be open to farmers who are eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme. We will offer an initial set of standards, which are packages of actions.

The standards on offer will be two Soils Standards, a Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard, and an Annual Health and Welfare Review - the first component of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.

We think it makes sense to start with these standards because:

  • they are widely applicable so will provide opportunities for a range of farmers to be rewarded
  • the activities we will pay for are mostly additional to activities farmers can already get paid for through existing schemes
  • healthy soils underpin a range of environmental benefits, as well as production
  • the Annual Health and Welfare Review will give us a better understanding of the health and welfare of the national herd/flock and help to target future support in the right way

A summary of each standard and estimated payment rates is below and detailed standards can be found in the Agricultural Transition Plan. We recently blogged about the development of these standards.

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard and Improved Grassland Soils Standard

These standards will:

  • reward farmers for management practices that improve soil health by improving soil structure, soil organic matter, and soil biology
  • comprise  3 levels of ambition
  • offer payments of between £26 and £70 per hectare (estimated). These payment rates are annual.

Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard

This standard will:

  • reward farmers for assessing the range of habitats and features present on their moorlands and identify pressures on these assets and the risks posed by wildfires.
  • consist of a single (introductory) level of ambition

The payment rate for this standard is currently under development – we will confirm by November.

Annual Health and Welfare Review

This will:

  • fund a yearly visit from a vet or vet-led team, diagnostic testing and bespoke advice leading to actions to improve livestock health and welfare
  • be available for all commercial cattle, pig and sheep keepers who are eligible for Basic Payments

Payments will range from approximately £269-£775, varying by species.

What we'll do next 

We plan to open up applications in spring and make the first payments before the end of 2022.

Before we open the scheme, we will be further developing elements of it including the length and flexibility of agreements, and the approach to compliance and monitoring. We will also be working out how the scheme should expand, and which standards should be introduced when. To decide this, we will be considering the outcomes we want to achieve through the scheme, their fit with legacy schemes, and will be working with farmers and stakeholders to ensure that the schemes are workable in different farming systems. Look out for more information on that in future blog posts.

It takes time to develop the evidence to create new standards and payment rates, and to test them with farmers and other experts. Over the summer, we’ll be refining the indicative payment rates and standards that we have published today, ready to publish final versions of this initial set of standards by November this year.  We will be talking to farmers and stakeholders about the detail of the standards, researching how many farmers are likely to sign up, and assessing whether that level is enough to meet our ambition for the scheme to achieve a big impact early on in the agricultural transition period.

We will be drawing on learning from Tests and Trials, the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot, and the early rollout of the scheme to shape the longer-term scheme.

We’re excited to be rolling this scheme out and we hope that farmers find the scheme a straightforward way to get rewarded for sustainable farming  approaches.

Get involved

As I mentioned, we are developing the Sustainable Farming Incentive through a process of co-design. This means that we are developing the processes and systems directly with the farmers who will use them.

If you are interested in taking part in future co-design sessions on future farming you can email

There is much about the Sustainable Farming Incentive that is still up for shaping and we would be delighted to hear from you.


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  1. Comment by William Bradley posted on

    I'm in the SFI pilot but I'm not convinced I'm getting all the info or interreaction I should be getting.
    The Soils standard in the pilot don't match those announced by George Eustice at Cereals.
    What am I missing? I want to take part but I'm now totally confused. Perhaps someone could call me to explain exactly what should be happening. Thanks.

  2. Comment by Neil Pickard posted on

    There appears to be no mention of a soils standard for low input grassland. These farmers need to be able to access some rewards through the SFI for managing their soils otherwise they may assume that the way forward was to improve their grassland through the application of more inputs in order that they can then access the improved grassland soils standard. Clearly this is not the outcome that you wish them to follow.

    • Replies to Neil Pickard>

      Comment by Jonathan Marsden posted on

      Neil – thank you for your comment - apologies for the delay. I'm on the SFI team. We recognise the value of low/no input grassland and as such we will be testing a ‘Low and no input grassland standard’ as part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot between 2022 and 2024. The primary objective on low/no input grassland, particularly where swards are botanically rich, is to protect the sward from cultivation, increases in nutrient levels, and damage by overgrazing or poaching by livestock. These either negate the need for soil specific actions or take priority over soils actions. For example we would not want customers cultivating these swards to introduce legumes. Best wishes, Jonathan Marsden.

  3. Comment by Tom Lewis - Defra posted on

    William – we have written this week (7th July) to all of our Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot participants to explain that we are introducing earlier than planned the two soil standards that SoS announced at Cereals. This means that we are replacing the previous pilot soil standards with the new ones.

    Recent work has led us to develop new soil standards, these have different payment rates and we feel are more future focussed – we didn’t want anyone in the pilot to be disadvantaged. I do apologise for any confusion we may have caused – but the pilot is the place to test and learn about new developments such as this.

    Our pilot application window opened on Wednesday 7th July – and it’ll be the new soil standards that you’ll see when you start to build your application on the Rural Payments System.

    One of the team will call you to discuss this and our customer contact centre will be able to help you with any other queries. Thanks for your comment. Tom

  4. Comment by Stephen Thompstone posted on

    There’s No metrics /no measures on soil health /quality … easy to state aspirational thoughts

    How can you have a scale for this unless you have categories of soil type layered over existing land use / intensity … agronomists don’t have a template for this complex area … monies are paid to improve but what about my existing clients who are already achieving a high benchmark?
    Stephen Thompson - Land Manager

    • Replies to Stephen Thompstone>

      Comment by Hannah Freeman - Defra posted on

      Hi Stephen, thanks for your comment. You raise a number of important points that I'm sure will be of interest to others.

      In past schemes we’ve focussed too heavily on whether detailed measurements and prescriptions have been followed. In this new scheme we want to focus on whether the outcomes that the standards are designed to meet are being met and supporting improvement, where it is needed. In the two soils standards published in June we included “aims” that explain the outcomes we would expect if the actions have been implemented successfully.

      We know this is quite a significant change so we are testing a range of approaches and tools to support farmers. We are considering different methods of soil health and soil structure measuring and monitoring, that can help to assess change in soil health over time. We want the soils structure methods, in particular, to enable farmers to carry out visual field assessments of soil structure across all land uses and soil types. We also plan to use remote monitoring and run physical and virtual site visits on a proportion of farms in Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme agreements from 2022, working in partnership with farmers and offering guidance to support improvements.

      On your final point about your existing clients who are already achieving a high benchmark we are designing the scheme so that if a participant is already doing some of these actions on their land, they’ll count towards payment. 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. Those farmers already achieving a high benchmark should be able to enter at the higher ambition levels in the standards if they are able to comply with all of the actions and will be rewarded with higher payments.


  5. Comment by Fiona Tweedie posted on

    Hi, I attended the SFI webinar on Monday and the changes to the Soils standards were presented in a tabular form. It was a really effective way of showing the difference between the levels and much easier to read than the text on the webpages. Could you consider presenting the standards in a tabular form to help us visualise the levels and the effort needed to go up levels please?

    • Replies to Fiona Tweedie>

      Comment by hannahfreeman posted on

      Hi Fiona, thanks for the feedback. Glad you found the information in the webinar useful.

      GOV.UK standards limit us from displaying information in tabular format due to accessibility issues that some people have with viewing information in tables. But we recognise that sometimes tables and diagrams are preferred and a good way to give a comparative overview. We're carrying out user research on the GOV.UK guidance with farmers to help us understand where improvements can be made (including how we display information). We expect to update the guidance in due course.



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