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https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/2021/12/02/sfi-standards/

The Sustainable Farming Incentive: what’s new, improved and coming in 2022

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Environmental Land Management, Things we're doing, Things we've learned

Today we published further information on the Sustainable Farming Incentive. You can find it, in full, on GOV.UK.

In this post, I’ll share a summary of the things that are new, the things we’ve changed following feedback and what you can expect in 2022.

There are 3 environmental standards coming in 2022, plus an Annual Health and Welfare Review. This is in line with the plans we published in our update in June.

We’ve also published our indicative roadmap for adding in more standards over the next 3 years. These will cover a wider range of actions farmers can take for the good of the environment and to tackle climate change.

We’ll launch the scheme and make the first payments next year (2022). The application window will be open for 10 weeks and we’ll confirm the dates for the window early next year.

Responding to feedback 

We’re taking an incremental, test and learn approach to our schemes. We try things, learn, improve them and repeat.

Developing and constantly improving things in this way will help us make sure that they work for farmers and achieve their intended outcomes.

We published draft standards for arable and horticultural soil and improved grassland soil earlier this year, and we’ve had plenty of feedback on them since then.

We’ve also been going through the application process for the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot with participants. We’ve been working closely with farmers and other experts to develop a standard for moorlands and rough grazing.

We’ve learned a lot from all of these activities, and used what we’ve learned to develop the rules and standards of the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme for 2022.

Scheme rules  

We’ve published the rules of the scheme, setting out who is eligible and how the scheme will work in practice.

We’ve designed the rules to make the scheme more accessible, more straightforward, and fairer than previous schemes. For example, we are going to have a much more supportive approach to checks and controls, and we won’t be applying additional penalties for agreement breaches.

When the scheme launches, farmers who are eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) will be eligible for the Sustainable Farming Incentive. We will expand eligibility in the coming years.

We’ve learned that many farmers prefer to adopt new practices and schemes incrementally, not all in one go.

Farmers can choose how many of their fields to enter into the Sustainable Farming Incentive – they do not have to enter their whole farm – and they can add more land, standards or levels of ambition into their agreement each year.

Tenant farmers are a vital part of our farming community. In the past they have sometimes been excluded from schemes because of lack of flexibility and agreement lengths that are too long.

For the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we’ve set the agreement length to 3 years (rather than 5 under Countryside Stewardship), and in 2022 we’ll allow tenants with only 2 years left on their tenancy to enter the scheme too.

We’ll also allow people to exit the scheme within their 3 year agreement in exceptional circumstances where they lose management control of their land. Common land is also a hugely important part of our landscape and heritage, and we want commons to be able to take part in the scheme as straightforwardly as possible.

We’ve been working closely with commoners and other experts and are hugely grateful for their work with us so far.

We’ll be continuing to work with commoners to develop detailed scheme rules and guidance, and we’re looking at how we can support facilitation for commons groups to help them take part.

In the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot, we weren’t able to accommodate parcels that were already covered by Countryside Stewardship. For the main Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme from 2022, we’re now able to allow farmers to have a Sustainable Farming Incentive agreement on the same parcel as a Countryside Stewardship agreement, so long as we’re not paying for the same action twice, and so long as the actions are compatible.

We’re designing the scheme to be less prescriptive, allowing farmers to work out the best way to deliver the things we want to see. For example, where we’re asking for green cover, we’ll provide guidance but farmers will be able to choose the right approach for their farm.

The Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard and the Grassland Soils Standard

Managing and conserving our soil is something most farmers can do, and which have many benefits and form the basis of many other ecosystem services.

We published our 2 soils standards in draft in the summer, and the changes we’ve made are based on the feedback we received. We learned in the pilot that the standards weren’t clear or straightforward enough, and some farmers weren’t sure how aspects of the standards would fit with their farm.

We’ve made the standards clearer and applicable to more farms and removed anything that was confusing or unnecessarily complicated. We also learned in the pilot that the standards were too inflexible, requiring farmers to apply the same level of ambition to all parcels entered into the scheme.

In 2022, farmers will be able to apply different ambition levels to different parcels on their farm. We’ve also made the standards less prescriptive (in terms of how to deliver the requirements of the standards) to allow farmers more flexibility to work out what’s right for their farm setting.

We also heard through the pilot a lot of conflicting views about specific actions in particular minimum tillage / no tillage techniques.

We’ve decided that before introducing those elements into the standard, we need to do more testing and learning with farmers in the pilot.

To give us time to do this testing, learning and development, we’ll introduce the advanced level of ambition as soon as we can after we launch the scheme, most likely in 2023.

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard specifics 

  • This will be available at either an introductory (£22/hectare per year) or intermediate (£40/hectare per year) level.
  • For both levels, farmers will need to test for soil organic matter, develop a soil plan and ensure winter cover is in place for at least 70% of the land in the standard.
  • At the intermediate level, a sown green cover crop must be in place for winter months on 20% of the area entered into that standard. 
  • Both levels will need organic matter applied each year to one-third of the area of land entered into the standard. 

 Grassland Soils Standard specifics 

  • This will also be available at either introductory (£28/hectare per year) or intermediate (£58/hectare per year). 
  • For both levels, farmers will need to test the land they enter for its soil organic matter. They will also need to develop a soil management plan.
  • For both levels, there must be at least 95% green cover of the land in the standard over the winter.
  • The intermediate level requires that herbal leys are established and maintained on 15% of the area entered into that standard. 

Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard 

The Moorland Rough Grazing Standard is new. We’re publishing it in draft so we can continue working with moorland farmers to develop it.

The standard currently only has an introductory level of ambition as it is focussed on assessing moorland soils and their habitats – this simple assessment will underpin more ambitious delivery of moorland standards in the future.

But importantly in the period before 2024 this standard must complement existing schemes but not duplicate them.

We encourage anyone not in Countryside Stewardship to enter into it. Some moorland farmers will be in protected landscapes, and they’re also eligible for funding through our Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme.

Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard specifics 

  • This standard will be available on land above the Moorland Line, and in 2022, at the introductory level only (£148/agreement and £6.45/hectare).
  • Farmers will need to assess their moorland by looking at soil types, peat depth and associated vegetation. 
  • Intermediate and advanced levels will apply in future years. The introductory level will form a good foundation for the delivery of future actions. 

What we’re working on now 

We’re working up the detailed guidance to accompany the standards we’ve published today – we’ll publish that as soon as we can so that people have enough time to plan.

We’ve also set out what standards are coming next with nutrient management, integrated pest management and hedgerows planned for 2023 with more to follow in 2024 and 2025 – we’ll share more information soon about how we’re going to co-design these standards with farmers and other experts, so do subscribe to the Future Farming blog.

Farming Forum Q&A

Programme Director Janet Hughes and the team will be answering questions about the Sustainable Farming Incentive on the Farming Forum over the next few days. You don't have to be a member of the forum to read the questions and responses. You do, however, need to be a member to ask a question.

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14 comments

  1. Comment by John hawkins posted on

    Once the new payment rates for CS and HLS and double funding rules are released land managers will be able to decide if SFI is worth it. That information would be appreciated sooner rather than later and proposed date for this please? The new cropping season for 2022 begins on Jan 15th for many farmers...

    Reply
    • Replies to John hawkins>

      Comment by The SFI Team posted on

      Hi John, Thanks for the comment – we will provide this information shortly, we don’t have a date for that yet but we do appreciate that it is important and as soon as there is an update, it'll appear here on the blog.
      All good wishes,
      The Team

      Reply
  2. Comment by Andrew Tanner posted on

    What are arrangements for contract dispute resolution with the SFI scheme?

    Reply
    • Replies to Andrew Tanner>

      Comment by The SFI Team posted on

      Hi Andrew,

      Do you mean dispute resolution with Defra? Rather than disputes on land where multiple individuals have property rights?

      If it is the former then, the Sustainable Farming Incentive agreements will be 3 years long - with an annual opportunity to add extras to your agreement (new standards or additional land).

      If you are unable to deliver what you apply for – then you’ll need to let us know as soon as possible and we can remove that from your agreement, we may ask you to repay money if you’ve applied to do something that you can’t actually do. We won’t apply penalties on top.

      The terms and conditions will set this out very clearly - we will publish these in the new year and before applications open.

      Best wishes,
      The SFI Team

      Reply
  3. Comment by Richard Pedley posted on

    How soon will CS agreements revert to monthly start dates. Currently in HLS rollover which starts 1st February, but not allowed to apply for CS Higher tier until our HLS expires. Be a sensible idea to allow HLS agreement holders to submit a CS application to start when the current agreement finishes.

    Reply
  4. Comment by Nicola Branton posted on

    We have applied to join the SFI pilot and put 52ha into grassland soils advanced. This is the only level that is financially significant and grassland soils does not take areas out of production on an intensive set up. However we are struggling to get accepted because we grow Maize over 15ha annually in rotation so would be forced to stick to a fixed field/s for Maize over the life of the scheme. This needs reviewing by SFI as we are not the only grass based farm using maize or corn as a break crop. Anyone else had this problem please? Any solutions?

    Reply
  5. Comment by Steve Visscher posted on

    Is the arable and horticultural standard available for permanent crops such as Miscanthus or will that be the subject of a separate standard for permanent crops?

    Reply
    • Replies to Steve Visscher>

      Comment by Sarah Stewart posted on

      Hi Steve,

      I've just spoken to the team who explained that there are no plans to develop a permanent crop standard. Areas of permanent cropping can be included alongside other land in the existing standards, as long as the farmer can deliver all of the actions. For example, in the arable and horticultural soil standard 70% of the area must have winter cover (introductory and intermediate), Miscanthus could count towards that. But it couldn’t count towards the 20% multi-species green cover required in the intermediate level. A farmer would need to work out what land to enter into what standard. The standards have flexibility to deal with different crop types. The team added that they don’t intend to repeat previous schemes that had complicated lists of eligible / ineligible crops.

      I hope this helps.

      Best wishes,
      Sarah

      Reply
  6. Comment by Otto Willis posted on

    Are there tools available for measuring the % of land with cover, as required by the incentive?

    Reply
  7. Comment by Stephen Miller posted on

    Could you seed clover into an existing ley to go into the intermediat level as we reseeded all our grass last autumn

    Reply
  8. Comment by Claire Foster posted on

    I would like to ask whether there will be a standard added to SFI to reward farmers for pond creation/restoration by paying for the management and protection of farm ponds. Many farmers are interested in pond creation and/or restoration but the incentives are very limited at present - there may be grant funding e.g., through FiPL for the initial capital works but very little in the way of future management and maintenance payments - for example under CS, WT4 and WT5 are only available in Higher Tier, and only for "priority ponds". Given how important and valuable ponds are for a range of species, will there be an SFI standard for farm ponds? This would encourage farmers to create and restore ponds on their farms and provide multiple benefits for nature and the landscape, in the knowledge they are being appropriately rewarded for doing so.

    Reply
  9. Comment by Simon Micklethwait posted on

    Is it possible to take part in the SFI if you are in a CS mid-tier agreement with multiple options?
    Where can I find the appropriate info on the SFI rules and any double funding issues?

    Reply

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