Defra revises SFI and CS payments and options for 2024
Defra secretary Steve Barclay used the 2024 Oxford Farming Conference as a platform to launch an update of the Agricultural Transition Plan, focusing on changes to incentivise more farmers to sign up to an agri-environment scheme.
The headlines include a further increase in payment rates for Countryside Stewardship (CS) and the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), with some new premium payments being introduced to encourage farmers to embrace 21 priority actions.
Mr Barclay called his announcement ‘the biggest upgrade to the UK’s farming schemes since leaving the European Union’.
Key messages were:
- An increase in payments available under CS, SFI 2023 and the SFI Pilot which will apply from 1 January 2024 for CS agreements and from the start of the current agreement year for SFI. Defra estimates the increases equate to a 10% uplift in the average value of agreements.
- Premium payments have been announced for actions with the biggest environmental impact or combinations of actions that deliver benefits at scale, such as £765/ha for nesting plots for lapwing, and £1,242/ha for connecting river and floodplain habitat (see table below for full list).
- Defra is also equalising a number of lowland and upland payment rates after complaints from upland farmers that they were unfairly receiving a lower rate of payment.
- There has been a change in the structure of the grassland habitat offers by merging management and creation options and adjusting the payment rate to a point between management and creation. Historically, Defra has paid much more for creating or restoring habitats and features, and lower prices to maintain them but this has disadvantaged anyone who has already undertaken creation or restoration work. The payment for maintaining species rich grassland, for example, will rise from £182/ha to £646/ha.
- The £20/ha management payment for the first 50ha entered into an SFI agreement will continue to be available in 2024.
- Around 50 new actions will be introduced to the SFI and CS schemes in the summer, with a particular focus on options for land managers with moorland and grassland.
- Payments have not been updated for Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements under Environmental Stewardship (ES) as the ambition is to continue to phase them out.
- A streamlined single application process for farmers to apply for the SFI and Mid-Tier CS will be introduced.
Defra has a target of 70% of farmers and land managers being part of an Environmental Land Management scheme by 2028.
It estimates by early 2024 it will be more than halfway to that target with 39,000 farmers signed up to an environmental scheme.
While there is still lots of detail to wade through, the payment increases and additional options are welcome. The fact that the SFI is open year-round makes it somewhat frustrating that farmers must wait for summer for the 50 new actions to become available. Moreover, anyone with an existing SFI agreement can only add the new options in at their annual review point (one year into their agreement), which does disadvantage producers who have already entered the scheme. Nonetheless, overall, it is a positive announcement, especially with the promise of a streamlined application process. As we move forward, it is likely the SFI and CS schemes will provide useful options for most farmers to make some contribution to changes to farming practices and help with risk management.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Sustainable Farming Scheme (SFI) – or any of the other schemes being offered by Defra – then contact Jonathan Armitage or your usual contact in the Farming team.
Premium payment rates will be introduced from 2024 for the 21 high priority actions listed below:
|2024 payment rate with premium (per ha)
|Nesting plots for lapwing
|Create lowland heathland
|Raise water levels in cropped or arable peat soils to near the land surface
|Raise water levels in permanent grassland peat soils to near the land surface
|Maintain very low density in-field agroforestry on less sensitive land
|Maintain very low density in-field agroforestry on more sensitive land
|Maintain low density in-field agroforestry on less sensitive land
|Maintain low density in-field agroforestry on more sensitive land
|Maintain medium density in-field agroforestry
|Maintain high density in-field agroforestry
|Manage species-rich floodplain meadows
|Low grazing on moorland
|Limited grazing on moorland
|6 metre to 24 metre 3-dimensional (3D) waterbody buffer strip
|Supplement: enhanced floodplain storage
|Manage features on arable land flood and drought resilience and water quality
|Manage grassland for flood and drought resilience and water quality
|Connect river and floodplain habitats
|Manage riparian and water edge habitats
|Make room for a river to move
|Create scrub and open habitat mosaics