Biggest upgrade to UK farming schemes introduced by the Government since leaving the EU

Environment Secretary announces major updates for farmers, with an increase in funding and reduction in red tape this summer

The biggest upgrade to the UK’s farming schemes since leaving the European Union has been set out by the Environment Secretary Steve Barclay at the Oxford Farming Conference today (4 January 2024).  

The updates include funding uplifts, streamlined application processes, enhanced environmental incentives and support for the roll out of new technology. These will provide further support for British farmers, strengthening supply chains and helping deliver the Government’s commitment to continue to produce at least 60% of the food we eat in the UK.

Under the UK’s agricultural transition, new farming schemes are paying farmers to take actions that boost sustainable food production while delivering positive outcomes for the environment. The schemes are designed to work for all farm types and sizes, with thousands of farmers across England already taking part, and replace the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy which saw 50% of funding go to the largest 10% of landowners.

Speaking at the conference, Steve Barclay reiterated the Government’s support for British farmers and outlined the updated offer for 2024 which has been designed using farmers’ feedback and aims to bring more farmers onboard the schemes and facilitate even greater environmental ambition.

The improvements include: 

  • A 10% increase in the average value of agreements in the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship driven by increased payment rates, with uplifts automatically applied to existing agreements.
  • A streamlined single application process for farmers to apply for the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier.
  • Around 50 new actions that farmers can get paid for across all types of farm businesses, including actions for agroforestry and those driving forward agricultural technology such as robotic mechanical weeding.
  • Enhanced payments for ‘creation’ and ‘maintenance’ options to improve the long term incentives for farmers to create habitats and ensure they are rewarded for looking after habitats once they have created them.
  • Premium payments for actions with the biggest environmental impact or combinations of actions that deliver benefits at scale, such as £765 per hectare for nesting plots for lapwing, and £1,242 per hectare for connecting river and floodplain habitat. 

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said: 

"Farmers do the essential job of keeping Britain fed. That’s why I’ll back British farmers and help support farming businesses.

"We have listened to farmers’ feedback and set out the biggest upgrades to our farming schemes since leaving the EU, with more money, more choice and more trust to support domestic food production whilst also protecting the environment.

"We’re also making it easier for farmers of every farm type and size to enter the schemes, and I encourage everyone to take a look at how you can join the thousands of other farmers and land managers who are already receiving our backing through the schemes."

Farmers will be able to submit their applications for the 2024 offer from this summer, and the timeline for agreements being offered will be accelerated to help farmers benefit from the changes earlier than in previous years.

The application process will also be simplified in 2024 by enabling farmers to apply for the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier through a single application. 

Farmers and landowners can be paid for taking a range of actions under the government’s farming schemes, such as actions to improve soil health or providing nesting and foraging habitats for farmland wildlife. The Government has listened to feedback and introduced more ‘maintenance’ actions, alongside improving existing actions, to reward farmers who are already protecting the environment, for example through maintaining grasslands, wetlands and scrub. Farmers will also be paid more for existing actions to maintain habitats, with the price of maintaining species rich grassland, for example, rising from £182 to £646 per hectare.

The offer also includes more actions for shorter length agreements of up to three years to make the schemes more accessible for tenant farmers.

Today’s announcement builds on significant improvements to the farming schemes in 2023, with thousands of farmers already taking part. Around 8,000 farmers to date have applied to the Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023 and there has been a 94% increase in Countryside Stewardship agreements since 2020. This adds to the more than 50 Landscape Recovery projects to deliver large scale environmental benefits around the country.  

It comes alongside ongoing support for farmer-led innovation and technology, with the Government committing over £168 million in grant funding to farmers in 2023 to drive innovation, support food production, improve animal health and welfare and protect the environment. This includes the Environment Secretary announcing a further £45 million at the Country Land and Business Association conference in November to fund robotic and automatic equipment and invest in research and development.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP