Defra announced recently that they will start inviting applications for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) from September 18, with the CLA warning officials that any further delays will harm the sector. The SFI pays farmers for actions that support food production and can help improve farm productivity and resilience, while also protecting and improving the environment.
The SFI window was due to open in August, but the Government has now set the new date and farmers can now register their interest with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
The roll out of the expanded SFI 2023 offer has been frustratingly slow. However, developments recently show we are moving a step closer towards applicants finally being able to submit applications. Given the realities of further Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cuts and the wider economic picture, there is no room left for any further delay. The CLA is acutely aware of the cash flow issues facing farmers and landowners, with the second instalment of the reduced 2023 BPS payment due in December. Our expectation is that the delays will enable the RPA to ensure that the automated, streamlined SFI application process is fit for purpose.
In terms of the process, those able to submit applications at the earliest opportunity from September 18 will need to wait to be offered an agreement, before accepting the agreement offer and being issued with a live agreement. The very first live agreements therefore are likely to be in place by early October, with the first quarterly payment being issued in January 2024. Those in more complex situations, such as those farming commons or with multiple agri-environment agreements, will have to wait a little longer to be invited to apply, though timelines will depend on the progress of the rollout.
For those eager to be amongst the first to apply, you will need to register your interest. If there are any boundary or land cover changes on land you will include in your SFI application, you should make these as soon as possible, as this can take time to be processed.
At the CLA we firmly believe that the ‘public money for public goods’ model is the right one – for farmers, for the public and for the environment. The Environmental Land Management schemes will work, but it is impossible to ignore the impact that continued delays are having on the confidence of land managers to engage with them.
As a first step to reestablishing that confidence, Defra Ministers must recognise the immediate cash flow problems many farmers across England will be having, as BPS cuts bite. They must redouble their efforts to ensure applications are processed and payments are made as soon as possible.
Visit the CLA Agricultural Transition Hub for the latest news or call the CLA East team for specific enquiries.