Agriculture is facing the biggest challenge in over 100 years. Increasing input costs, increased interest rates, high inflation, and the reduction in direct subsidy are all having an impact on business profitability. The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme provides an opportunity for farmers to change their farming practices, reduce costs, and receive a guaranteed income going forward.
SFI applications are being accepted all year round, and unlike the Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier where payments are made annually in arrears, the SFI payments are made automatically on a quarterly basis - with a 25% upfront payment being made the month following the start date of the agreement. This means that farmers can apply for the scheme at a time best suited to individual business needs.
While the 2022 SFI Pilot Scheme required multiple actions to fulfill the criteria for one payment option, the new pick-and-mix approach in the 2023 scheme allows farmers to add much more flexibility to their application.
Undoubtedly the SFI is aimed at working towards more regenerative farming methods, but the ability to choose individual options to receive payments opens the scheme up to those who felt the previous scheme was too restrictive alongside their existing farming practices. The new scheme targets not only the businesses that are already currently adopting a regenerative approach to farming but also gives farmers the opportunity to implement new practices, while reducing costs through standalone options.
On one hand, the SFI could act as a catalyst for those already practicing regenerative techniques, or those wanting to “dip their toe in the water”, with payments encouraging reduced soil erosion, ‘living’ soil overwintering, and integrated pest management.
Options are available to complement current farming techniques, which are comparable to the actions seen in the mid-tier Countryside Stewardship (CS) Scheme. Herbal leys (annual payment of £382 per ha) and low input grassland (annual payment of £151 per ha) are both key options that can easily be managed as part of current grassland practices, requiring very little input or maintenance, with grazing still permitted.