In this year’s program, farmers will no longer be required to complete all actions within a standard to get paid, but pick and choose which initiatives to include in their agreement instead.
Other changes include a removal of the requirements for minimum or maximum land area or hedgerow length – going forward, farmers will be able to choose what area of eligible land to carry out actions on.
Some actions originally planned for 2024 have also been brought forth in to the 2023 program, but others – such as three actions from the 2022 soils standards – will not be available ‘because they only work when they’re grouped together with other actions, and done on a required percentage area of land’, the government said.
Farmers can also combine SFI actions with other actions on their land, for example if the hold Countryside Stewardship or Environmental Stewardship agreements, but the government won’t pay twice if the same action is carried out on the same piece of land.
Farmers who already have an SFI agreement will be contacted on how to access the full 2023 offer shortly. “You won’t be at any disadvantage because you entered the earlier version of the scheme and we will make the transition as seamless as possible for you,” said Defra.
Those signing up for the first time should be met with an application process that’s ‘clear and straightforward’ according to the government. “If your land is eligible and the actions you pick are compatible, you’ll get an agreement,” Defra explained. “It's as simple as that. There’s no competition. The agreement will start the month after you accept it.”
Applications for the 2023 program is expected to be open from August under ‘a controlled rollout’, which means that Defra will ask those who want to apply to ‘get in touch’. “Initially, we will manage applications in a controlled way so that we can make sure everyone gets the service and support they need,” the department said.
An updated handbook outlining all actions that farmers can be paid for undertaking is now available free via gov.uk.
'Defra has to get this right'
Responding to Defra’s announcement, National Farmers Union vice-president David Exwood said: “It’s encouraging that the SFI for 2023 appears to be an improved, broader and more flexible offer, changes that the NFU has been asking for. Farmers and growers will need to take a close look at all the options being made available and consider how these can be applied on farm.
“We understand Defra intends to offer a ‘smooth transition’ for over 3,000 farmers who joined the SFI22 scheme, which it is closing. We await the detail about what this transition will look like, but given their early commitment and the lessons learned, these farmers must be treated fairly and rewarded during the transition, should they wish to take up a SFI23 agreement.
“Defra has to get this right. If SFI and the wider ELM scheme is to be successful, it needs to be simple, flexible and provide certainty so there’s widespread uptake. It’s in all our interests to ensure sustainable, climate-friendly British farming, with farmers being paid to produce high-quality food alongside their work in managing and protecting the great British countryside.”