Sustainable Farming Incentive, pays farmers to carry out actions that support both a sustainable farm business and a healthy natural environment. Farmers can be in both the SFI and Countryside Stewardship at the same time, but farmers won’t be paid for the same actions twice and the actions must be compatible. However, farmers might already be carrying out the actions they can be paid for.
Scientific research and farmers’ experiences shows that soil fertility, controlling pests and protecting crops from floods and drought are vital components of short and long-term farming systems.
Reducing the impact of rising costs by improving soil health
Action included in SFI: Add organic matter, through cover crops, legume mixes and incorporation of straw into soil.
Effect: Increases nutrient availability, suppresses pests and disease.
Explanation: Organic matter offers an alternative source of nutrients to fertilisers. The addition of organic matter either directly or through cover crop increases the amount of nutrients available in the soil.
Incorporating organic matter into soil supports a diverse community of bacteria and fungi. This living community breaks down organic matter into absorbable nutrients. It can also reduce pest populations and keep fungal plant pathogens in check. This reduces the need for costly pesticides and anti-fungal treatments.
Action included in SFI: Reduce bare ground and tillage. For example, through cover crops and minimum tillage.
Effect: Reduces soil loss through erosion and reduces nutrient loss through leaching.
Explanation: Soil left uncovered or disturbed by tillage is at risk of being washed away in wet conditions.
Mitigating the impact of extreme weather on crops
Improving soil health reduces the need for nutrient inputs, it also improves the ability of soil to absorb and hold water. This is beneficial in flood and drought events.
Action included in SFI: Adding organic matter and reducing bare ground, through cover crops, tree planting on unproductive land and overwinter stubble.
Effect: Soil structure improves making it better able to hold water (increased water retention) and less at risk of being washed away during floods.
Explanation: Well-structured and well-aerated soil, interspersed with decomposing organic matter and living roots acts as a ‘biological sponge’, regulating water flow through the land.
Reducing biodiversity loss to increase yields
Biodiversity plays an important role in maintaining crop yields by providing services such as pollination and pest control and by making space for wildlife.
Action included in SFI: Incremental hedgerow cutting and planting hedgerow trees, flower habitats and wild bird food.
Effect: Increased provision of food and nesting resources available to wildlife; beneficial insects that support farming through pollination and pest control, and birds, which are an indicator of wider environmental quality.
Explanation: Measures SFI will pay for to boost biodiversity by increasing the foraging and nesting resources available for wildlife.
Last year, Defra launched the SFI with 3 standards:
arable and horticulture soils standard
improved grassland soils standard
Available in 2023:
nutrient management standard
integrated pest management standard
arable and horticultural land standard
improved grassland standard
low/no input grassland standard