NSA responds to further update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive
The National Sheep Association (NSA) has welcomed further developments to the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) announced by Defra, but some concerns do remain over its perceived complexity.
The new additions to the SFI offer for this year, SFI 2023, move on from the 2022 offer and are part of the ongoing transition away from the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA is welcoming several new aspects of the SFI and is keen to see it progress. But concerns do exist about just how complex many farmers will be finding the rapid changes in the Future Farming scheme landscape. We don’t believe the process is that bad once started, but it’s not surprising that many are confused even before they begin. However, NSA is pleased to see the new actions on offer and the developments for tenant farmers, allowing businesses to apply without the need for landlord permission along with allowing tenants to have an SFI agreement even if they are on a shorter, rolling tenancy contract.
“NSA is especially pleased that Defra has taken on feedback and simplified the process of completing actions, allowing a much more flexible approach which in turn NSA hopes will open SFI up to many more farming businesses by allowing participants to choose the actions they want to do and the area of land they wish to do them on. NSA looks forward to this scheme being available to current non BPS eligible holdings, a development expected in 2024.”
Defra has announced a further 23 actions for the 2023 application period allowing businesses to combine as many actions in an agreement as needed with no minimum area of land required. There will also be the option to add more actions and eligible land to an agreement each year. Those farmers who signed up for SFI 2022 will have their agreements terminated, with a required six months’ notice, before they can enter SFI 2023 which will have a ‘controlled rollout’ starting in August. Defra has assured NSA this transition should be seamless and with no gaps, and will be dealing with both 2022 transferrals and new SFI applicants. Farmers involved in the original SFI Pilot scheme will continue to operate their agreements until conclusion.
Stocker concluded: “It’s encouraging Defra is going further and faster with SFI than was initially intended and we will continue to work closely in future developments and in aiding the rollout as far as we can. Increasingly there are few ‘quiet times’ in the farming calendar but an August opening of such a substantial new scheme will delay the process for many sheep farmers who have their focus set on the busy show and sales season with a lot of practical work to be done.
“We need to ensure farmers transferring from SFI 2022 are not penalised, and Defra needs to be aware that applications from upland and common land take significant time to pull together. It is highly likely their access to this scheme, providing funds crucial to business viability, will be delayed while they see BPS funds declining.”