After much anticipation Defra has formally launched the full version of the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) for England. The headlines are that SFI 2023 is bigger, more flexible and should be easier to apply for. It is a key objective of SFI 2023 to achieve government targets for nature recovery under the Environmental Improvement Plan.
SFI 2023 should be going live in August 2023 and payments will be made every three months. Initially, applications will be managed in a controlled manner to ensure that everyone receives the necessary support and services they require.
There are 23 actions available, covering various aspects such as soil health and moorland, hedgerows, integrated pest management (IPM), nutrient management, farmland wildlife, buffer strips, and low input grassland. Each action has several different components, and the new offer provides the freedom to select the actions you prefer and the specific area of land you want to implement them in a ‘pick and mix’ format.
SFI actions and Countryside Stewardship (CS) or Environmental Stewardship (ES) options can be combined on the same land if the land is eligible for both schemes and the actions are compatible. The payment rates are in line with similar options within CS. However, please note that you will not be paid twice if you carry out the same action on the same piece of land.
There is a management payment of £20/ha for the first 50 hectares to cover the cost of participation in the scheme.
Tenant farmers do not need consent from their landlord to apply for an SFI agreement, and even if you have a shorter rolling tenancy contract, you will be able to benefit from this scheme by shorter agreement lengths.
If you are a tenant farmer, you do not need permission from your landlord to apply for an SFI agreement. Even if you have a shorter, rolling tenancy contract, you can still participate in the SFI scheme.
There is a payment to cover one vet visit each year to review the health and welfare of livestock.
There is no minimum or maximum land area or hedgerow length. Moreover, you can add additional actions and eligible land to your agreement annually.
The SFI 2023 has been developed in collaboration with farmers across England, ensuring the actions align with farmers' preferences and cater to various types of farms. The same payment rates apply for farms in both upland and lowland areas.
What’s on offer?
The main changes to the SFI's from the initial announcement are to the soil standards.
DEFRA are introducing a new soils standard which will replace the SFI 2022 soils standard. The need to add organic matter, single species winter cover and minimise bare ground have been removed. This has been done to bring the Soils Actions in line with the ‘pick and mix’ SFI actions which will be available in 2023.
The new soil assessment action will be a payment of £5.80/ha + £95 per agreement for assessing the soil, testing organic matter, and producing a soil management plan.
Also, under the new SFI action for soils there are two further options, which includes:
£129/ha for multi species winter cover crops on arable land
£382/ha for herbal lays on improved grassland
Payment rates and actions for the other 2023 SFI standards have remained the same with the exception of low input grassland payment for SDA's now matching the payment for Non-SDAs at £151/ha
Clarification has also been made on the rotational SFI options so that it will be possible for you to vary the coverage of rotational actions, so they work with your crop rotation and different sized land parcels. This means that in the second and third years of your 3-year agreement you will be able to do the action on:
a larger area than you entered into the action for the first year of the SFI agreement
a lower area, as long as it's at least 50% of the area you entered into the action for the first year.
Hedgerow tree payment clarification
With £10 paid per 100m of hedgerow with 1 tree every 100m on average the payment is for both sides of the hedgerow, and you must have management control of both sides, with the exception of roadside hedges.
Brief summary of the 2023 standards and payments launching in August:
SFI management payment - £20/ha for first 50ha entered into an agreement (max. £1,000)
Assess soil, test soil organic matter and produce a soil management plan - £5.80/ha + £95 per agreement
Multi species winter cover crops - £129/ha
Herbal lays on improved grassland - £382/ha
Assess moorland and produce a written record £10.30/ha + £265 per agreement
Assess and record hedgerow condition - £3/100m - one side
Manage hedgerows - £10/100m - one side
Maintain or establish hedgerow trees £10/100m - both sides
Integrated pest management
Assess and produce and integrated pest management plan £989/year
Flower-rich grass margins, blocks or in field strips - £673/year
Companion crop on arable or horticultural land £55/ha
No use of insecticide on arable and permanent crops £45/ha
Assess nutrient management and produce a nutrient management plan - £589/year
Legumes on improved grassland - £102/ha
Legume fallow on arable land - £593/ha
Wildlife on arable land
Pollen and nectar flower mix - £614/ha
Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land - £732/ha
Grassy field corners and blocks - £590/ha
Wildlife on improved grassland
Take field corner's or blocks out of management - £333/ha
Winter bird food on improved grassland - £474/ha
Actions for buffer strips
4m - 12m grass buffer strips on arable and horticultural land - £451/ha
4m - 12m grass buffer strips on improved grassland - £235/ha
Actions for low input grassland
Manage grassland with very low nutrient inputs (SDA's) - £151/ha
Manage grassland with very low nutrient inputs (outside SDA's) -£151/ha
Additional common land payment (if 2 or more people apply for an SFI agreement on common land) - £6.15/ha
SFI 2022 is now closed to applications and those who signed up for SFI 2022 will be able to transfer to the 2023 offer. The detail of how this transition will work is not yet available, however, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will reach out to you via a letter explaining the next steps. This letter will provide all the necessary information to access the full 2023 offer.