The SFI cap - balancing production and the environment - News

The SFI cap - balancing production and the environment

The SFI cap - balancing production and the environment

Rural George F. White 4th June 2024

The enforcement of DEFRAs cap on the six SFI actions that encourage ‘rewilding’ of arable land has left questions for farmers who have live agreements taking their farms out of production, along with farmers who have been effected by the immediate enforcement of the cap.

The restriction has come about as roughly 1% of those who applied for SFI in 2023, entered 80% or more of their farm into actions that involve taking land out of food production.

What does this mean for farmers in this 1%? 

At the end of the three year agreement, it is likely that a portion of this land must be returned to arable production. With the vague seed mix prescriptions for the SFI actions, a tactical choice of mix should now be made. Not only one that is cost effective and fulfils the criteria of the action, but one that contains species which will maintain and enhance arable ground, rather than creating soil full of wild flower seeds at the end of those three years, competing against your arable crops.

SFI applications going forward

There are still plenty of opportunities for new SFI applications to utilise the actions available, maintaining productive arable land and balancing environmental actions to reduce risk on farm. NUM3, legume fallow, is becoming a crucial part of many arable rotations. With no cap on this action, a 50:50 split of winter wheat and legume fallow rotations are becoming more common, to reduce risk and maintain farm gross margins, without having to take land out of production. 

There is still the potential to utilise the restricted actions to their fullest extent, taking less productive blocks of land out of production. Areas that may be considered opportunities for this are: 

- Wet field corners

- Blocks in fields shaded by dense woodland

- Oddly shaped field corners that increase working time to manoeuvre machinery into these areas

Taking these areas out of production can potentially increase profit margins on a field by field basis by removing unproductive areas.

Looking forward, new actions promised for Summer 2024 will aim to support the farming of productive land with payments for direct drilling and variable rate fertilising, balancing the financial decision between farming the land and taking it out of production.

                                

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