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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

The Sustainable Farming Incentive

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Sustainable Farming Incentive

In this post, we’ll provide updates on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and the resources you need to prepare.

Apply for an SFI agreement

Join over 20,000 farmers who have already applied for SFI and choose from the 23 actions on offer. If you apply now, you will be able to add actions to your agreement annually - or have multiple agreements when the further actions are available.

Our dedicated SFI site includes details of the offer, including payment rates.

It includes a checker to help you work out which actions you could include in your agreement.

We recently published an update to the Agricultural Transition Plan on GOV.UK.

It includes our progress, priorities and plans for the coming years.

Deputy Director Jonathan Baker shared a summary of the update which includes details of scheme payment rates, premium payments, new actions and plans for a single application service.

SFI: enhancing income, productivity and the environment

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) offers a reliable income which supports food production and the environment. 

We've expanded and improved SFI based on your feedback. It’s now a much more flexible, broad and attractive offer with something for every kind of farm. 

By having an SFI agreement, you will get paid for actions that support your business, food production and the environment. 

Your agreement will start the month after you accept it.  

We’ve changed the way we check delivery to make it more flexible and pragmatic. You will be treated fairly and supported if things go wrong. We recently published a series of ‘how to’ guides for each SFI action. These guides are not mandatory, they are just intended to give you a bit more support.  

SFI is not competitive. Anyone who applies and is eligible will get an agreement.

You can choose how many actions you do. Once you’re in SFI, you can add more land and actions to your agreement each year. 

You will receive your first payment 4 months after your SFI agreement starts. After that you’ll be paid every 3 months, so you have regular, reliable income.

It’s possible to be in SFI and Countryside Stewardship at the same time if the actions are compatible and you are not being paid for the same action twice. 

Get ready 

1. Read the official scheme guidance.  

The SFI Handbook for the 2023 offer sets out the official guidance in a single PDF document

The official guidance is also presented in individual, accessible webpages on GOV.UK

2. Check that you’re eligible to apply.

3. Check that your land is eligible.  

4. Check the registered details on your digital maps are up to date. Requesting updates before you apply will make it easier when you fill in your application. It takes time for changes to be actioned so it’s best to request them as early as you can. 

5. Check your contact details are up to date and your permissions are correctly set for SFI in the Rural Payments service. 

Things to consider 

When to carry out actions 

If you’re planning to enter SFI, you can start some actions now and still be paid. 

Hedgerow actions and digital maps 

If you’re thinking of applying for the SFI actions for hedgerows (HRW1, HRW2 or HRW3), you do not need to check your hedgerows on your digital maps before you apply. You’ll find guidance on this in the SFI Handbook (section 3.1). 

If you farm on common land  

Those who farm on common land are eligible for SFI through group agreements. These agreements are likely to take longer to arrange and will require some manual processing because of the multiple parties involved. We will work closely with commons associations to help them get ready to apply, including providing access to commons maps. We will give an additional payment to those who farm on commons, to recognise the extra work required to enter into the scheme. 

Limited area actions

One of the things that we've been monitoring is the impact of the 9 actions in the current SFI offer which take land out of food production. 

Through SFI, our aim is to support farming and farmers. We want to protect and improve the environment, food production and food security. We obviously don’t want SFI to be used in a way that comes at a cost to any of them. 

We know that sometimes sparing land for a year, or 2 or 3 can make food production more resilient and can support farmers to achieve better margins from their land. Some of our SFI actions do take land out of food production for a short time, which helps farmers do this.

The evidence shows that a small number of farmers, roughly 1% of those who applied for SFI in 2023, entered 80% or more of their farm into actions that involve taking land out of food production. 

While flexibility and freedom of choice are important features of SFI, we think this goes further than is necessary. And, in the context of economic volatility and challenging weather conditions, there is a risk that this could become more of an issue.

The 6 limited area actions are:

  • Take improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management - IGL1  
  • Winter bird food on improved grassland - IGL2  
  • Pollen and nectar flower mix - AHL1  
  • Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land - AHL2  
  • Grassy field corners and blocks - AHL3  
  • Flower-rich grass margins, blocks, or in-field strips – IPM2 

We won't accept applications where the amount of land in total that is entered into any combination of those 6 actions is above 25% of a farm’s total land.

Learn more about the rationale behind limiting these actions.

Those with SFI 2022 standards agreements 

Those with SFI 2022 standards agreements are encouraged to apply directly online for the 2023 offer if they haven't already. 

If you have an existing SFI 22 standards agreement, you can include this land or additional land in your application. The RPA will work with you to arrange this once they receive your application. 

If you’d like to contact the RPA now, you can: 

  • email: - use ‘SFI’ in the subject header and include your Single Business Identifier (SBI)  
  • telephone: 03000 200 301 - Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5pm, except bank holidays  
  • write to: RPA, PO Box 352, Worksop, S80 9FG  

Learn more 

Talk to us 

If you have a question, post it in the comments section below. 

Remember, Basic Payment Scheme recipients can get free business advice from independent providers. To find a provider in your area, visit the Farming Resilience Fund page on GOV.UK.

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  1. Comment by Stephen Dennis posted on

    I am interested in joining the SFI programme

    • Replies to Stephen Dennis>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Stephen,

      That's great! You can register your interest using this link:

      We encourage everyone considering SFI to read the guidance, check their eligibility and make sure their details are up to date in the Rural Payments service before registering their interest.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  2. Comment by Jeremy White posted on

    As a farm consultant, agronomist and farmer I have many clients who would love to do more with their hedges, but the current standards are unusable for anyone with sheep netting, wire or electric fences which need to be kept clear of regrowth on an annual basis. Please can a new standard be offered which allows farmers to side cut their hedges, but leave the tops to grow on to bear the extra fruit which 2nd and 3rd year wood delivers. Also, the biennial cutting option restricting cutting dates to late winter is not useable for anyone with steeply sloping ground (such a friend of mine on Exmoor). Perhaps this comment could be passed to Jonathan Marsden for a response.

    • Replies to Jeremy White>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Jeremy,

      In most cases, the incremental annual cutting will meet this customer's needs. For incremental cutting, we do not dictate how big the increments have be, so smaller increments on the sides and larger on the tops is fine.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  3. Comment by Mark Lea posted on

    I have some land under my SBI on an FBT which ends very soon so I don’t want to (and cannot) enter it for SFI. How can I exclude it from the agreement level options eg SAM1, NUM1 and IPM1?
    If I allow the system to impose those options on all my parcels what will happen when I transfer them to someone else (via RLE1) in the future. The new owner may want to enter their own SFI.


    • Replies to Mark Lea>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for getting in touch. SAM1 isn't an agreement level action. NUM1 and IPM1 only apply to land parcels entered into an SFI agreement - they do not apply to land parcels not in an SFI agreement. So, if you do not want NUM1 and IPM1 to apply to land parcels, don't enter them into any SFI application.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  4. Comment by Ian Smith posted on


    I have a question regarding the area based options in SFI that can be rotated round my farm e.g herbal leys. As my fields are all different sizes if I enter an area into one of these options e.g 10 Ha do I have to put in exactly 10 Ha into this option each year or can I put 10 one year and 9.6 another. I have looked in the handbook but can't see that this is covered.

    Thanks Ian

  5. Comment by Nigel Smith posted on

    Nigel Smith
    I tried yesterday to apply online for a SFI Agreement, as it is after 23 October. When I clicked on to the page on my business section all I got was a blank page. Tried this a number of times no success. I can't even get on to my busines page as the valid reference and password used last night is not recognised. What is wrong with the RPA site

  6. Comment by Chris Powell posted on

    When will applications be open to businesses that were not BPS eligible? i have several clients that did not claim BPS or hold entitlements that wish to apply.

    • Replies to Chris Powell>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Chris,

      This summer. As soon as this happens, we'll share it on the blog.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

  7. Comment by Ian Knight posted on

    Dear Team,

    Please can you confirm the Christmas schedule for applications. Time and date of your IT system update.

    Also if an SFI application is drawn up and submitted after the system update and before the end of Dec, will this still be applicable for the early 1st qtr payment?


    Ian - Abacus Agri

    • Replies to Ian Knight>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Ian,

      In order for applicants to apply in 2024, RPA will close the service for new applications for a few days, between 27 December and 1 January.

      Customers with an SFI application they have started but not submitted should either submit or withdraw their applications before 31 December 2023.

      All unsubmitted SFI applications will be withdrawn from the system after midnight on 31 December 2023 to allow for annual updates.

      The RPA will be in touch with those applicants waiting on the completion of outstanding actions.

      Customers who have not submitted their application by 31 December but wish to continue to apply will have to restart their application in the new year.

      Regarding the accelerated payment, SFI agreements start from the 1st of the month following application i.e. for agreements accepted in December, the start date will by 1st January. To receive an accelerated payment, agreements needed to start from 1st December.

      We hope this helps,
      The Team

  8. Comment by Michael posted on


    I have never claimed BPS in the past although my father has been claiming for years. He is retiring from farming and looking to transfer the entitlements to myself, I am being told by consultants that I can’t currently apply for any SFI agreements is this the case and if so will this change in the future?


    • Replies to Michael>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment. We’re currently only allowing BPS eligible farmers to apply for an SFI agreement. This is because their details are already registered with the RPA. We plan to remove the current rule saying that farmers must have been eligible for BPS to apply for SFI, in summer 2024.

      Best wishes,
      The Team

      • Replies to The Team>

        Comment by John Twyford posted on

        Hi Team
        Is there any progress on allowing farmers who weren't eligible for BPS payments to apply for the SFI. The post here says summer of 2024, can you be more specific?
        Many thanks

        • Replies to John Twyford>

          Comment by The Team posted on

          Hi John,

          We will be releasing more information very soon, so please subscribe to the blog to keep up to date. We will publish any update on here as soon as it's ready.

          The Team

  9. Comment by Alice posted on

    Hi. Can land be transferred out of agreement without penalty if it is to be entered into another scheme, eg, CS HT or LRS? Does it have to be on an anniversary

    • Replies to Alice>

      Comment by The Team posted on

      Hi Alice,

      We want all farmers in existing agreements to continue to take part in our new Environmental Land Management schemes and will make it as easy as possible for them to either enter into our new schemes at the right time, or add new offers to complement their existing agreement (where this is not resulting in double payments for the same action).

      We are looking at how we can provide flexibility for ES agreement holders to leave an agreement early, without recovery, and apply for another land management scheme where a new agreement offers equivalent or greater environmental value than the HLS actions or options of their existing ES agreement.

      You will be able to have a new agreement through a new application under the combined offer and add actions in this way, rather than amending your current CS agreement. You can also add to your SFI agreement at your annual review point, and you can have additional agreements if you wish, outside of that cycle. We plan to introduce an annual opportunity to update agreements including actions currently in CS Mid Tier, as part of the combined offer, from 2024. We plan to introduce more frequent update opportunities in CS Higher Tier agreements in future.

      Hope that helps,
      The Team

  10. Comment by H G Bendall posted on


    Can you tell me what values we can expect by joining the SFA scheme also the minimum period on entry


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