Thousands of applications made for Sustainable Farming Incentive

SFI has been expanded and improved based on farmers’ feedback to include 50 new actions and a 10% increase in the average value of agreements

More than 10,000 farmers across England have now applied for the improved Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) since it opened in September, Defra has announced today (Wednesday 14 February). 

Four months after applications re-opened, the scheme, which has been developed with feedback from farmers, is proving popular, with one-in-eight eligible farmers having now submitted an application. This is on top of the 32,000 Countryside Stewardship agreements which are already in place.

SFI, which pays farmers for taking actions that support food production, farm productivity and resilience, whilst protecting and enhancing environment, has attracted applications from farmers in every part of the country, with every type and size of farm business represented. 

Farmers have taken up actions through the scheme to deliver tangible environmental benefits alongside food production. As of January, 174,000 hectares of arable land is now being managed without insecticides, 71,000 hectares of low input grassland is focused on improving sustainability, and almost 15,000km of hedgerows are under management. 

It comes as Defra also announces the winners of the ‘On farm Environmental Resilience’ competition, with projects awarded a share of £12.2 million funding to solve long-term challenges to plants, crops and farmed animals. 

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said:

"The Sustainable Farming Incentive has something on offer for every type of farm business, so it’s pleasing to see the scheme proving popular with farmers across England. 

"For those who have not yet applied, I encourage you to take a look at how the scheme could work for your business so you can join the thousands of other farmers already getting paid."

Rural Payments Agency Chief Executive Paul Caldwell said:

"We’ve worked hard to make the application process straightforward and the feedback we are getting from a majority of farmers is that they are finding it so.  

"Everything that farmers need to apply has been published and I would urge them not to wait and get involved now."

SFI has been expanded and improved based on farmers’ feedback, with a straightforward application process, greater flexibility for farmers to choose the actions that work for them, and the ability to be in SFI at the same time as Countryside Stewardship as long as the actions are compatible.  

Today’s announcement follows the government’s announcement at the Oxford Farming Conference of the biggest upgrade to the UK’s farming schemes since leaving the European Union

This included around 50 new actions that farmers can get paid for across all types of farm businesses; 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; and a streamlined single application process for farmers to apply for SFI and Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier. 

Farmers are encouraged to apply for an SFI agreement now and choose from the 23 actions already on offer, rather than delay until summer when the scheme will be expanded further. This is to ensure they can benefit from funding available now, and can then add actions to their agreements annually - or have multiple agreements - if they’d like to carry out further actions.  

There is a range of support on offer for farmers applying or considering applying for the scheme, including:

  • Sector-specific webinars in February and March to give farmers and land managers a chance to give their feedback and learn more about SFI.
  • Defra and RPA colleagues will be on stands at agricultural shows throughout England with more information.    
  • 6 regional events in Southwest, West Midlands and North East to raise awareness of schemes, especially amongst livestock and mixed sectors. 
  • Planned joint webinars with trusted networks including Catchment Sensitive Farming advisors, FAS, Barclays Bank, Waitrose.   
  • Defra attendance at NFU conference 
  • Ongoing monthly engagement with top 30 stakeholders through forums and bilaterals

Farmers can find out more about upcoming webinars and Defra regional events by visiting the Farming blog. Farmers can also access free business advice through the Farming Resilience Fund, or speak to the RPA through their Rural Payment Service helpline – 03000 200 301.

Farming Innovation Programme ‘On farm Environmental Resilience’ competition

24 innovative projects that are developing cutting edge technology to future-proof British farms will receive a share of over £12.2 million to boost productivity, food security and sustainable farming practices, it has also been announced today. 

The winners of the ‘On farm Environmental Resilience’ competition are using technology to tackle a range of long-term challenges to plants, crops and farmed animals including preventing potato blight, improving the wellbeing of farmed chickens, growing climate resistant hops and maximising grape yields in British vineyards. 

The funding is part of Defra’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme (FIP) delivered by Innovate UK. To date, the fund has committed over £140 million to support more than 170 projects across the country. 

The successful recipients include a project which will boost food security by increasing the yields of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in greenhouses by 20%. The project is using pioneering sunlight changing materials to design a new greenhouse which alters the ratio and amount of light that plants receive, reducing the need for extra LED lighting and saving electricity. 

Another will develop a smart indoor lighting system that responds directly to chicken behaviour to help improve their welfare, reducing the spread of disease and boosting productivity. Meanwhile a third project is working with leading UK vineyard Rathfinny Wine Estates to boost the production of high quality sustainable British wine through precision farming. The project will use technology to accurately and remotely monitor soil and water conditions, leading to better crop management. 

Lambda Agri was awarded over £400,000 through the scheme to develop its pioneering new greenhouses. Its chief executive Niall Haughian said:

"Lambda Agri is delighted to receive funding from this particular Farming Innovation Programme competition which will allow us to undertake independent trials at a large scale. Lambda will develop enhanced polycarbonate sidings, in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and Brett Martin, that will provide plants with extra red light which has been proven to increase crop yields.   

"Lambda, in partnership with Brett Martin, will sell enhanced greenhouse sidings to growers next year. This will provide welcome boost to British greenhouses growers while also making the country more food independent.” 

Klara Hajdu from Wye Hops limited, which was awarded over £475,000 to produce environmentally adapted hop varieties said:

"We are delighted to have received the Farming Innovation Programme funding which will allow us to develop new climate resilient hop varieties to support the UK hop and brewing industries."

Innovate UK Executive Director for the Healthy Living and Agriculture Domain Dr Stella Peace, said:

"Funding across the innovation journey plays a pivotal role in enhancing productivity, ensuring food security and fostering sustainable farming practices. It’s a commitment to cultivating a resilient and forward-thinking agricultural landscape."

The FIP has funded 20 competitions since opening in October 2021 helping to develop new approaches for farms to become more sustainable and productive, from new ways to reduce or eliminate pesticide use through to projects to reduce emissions from livestock. The fund will help meet the commitment made by the prime minister at the Farm to Fork Summit in Downing Street in May last year to continue to produce at least 60% of the food we eat here in the UK.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Rural Payments Agency
The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP