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Farmers are being invited to submit expressions of interest in a new Defra scheme to reward producers who undertake sustainable agricultural practices.

Farmers are being invited to submit expressions of interest in a new Defra scheme to reward producers who undertake sustainable agricultural practices.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will form the entry level to the government’s forthcoming Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. The scheme is being introduced as basic payments are phased out over the next seven years.

Defra says ELMs will see the most significant change to farm management in 50 years. It aims to deliver a renewed agricultural sector, healthy food and farms that are profitable and economically sustainable.

The SFI is the first of three schemes ELMs to be piloted. Information about the other two schemes, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery, will be published later this year.

Soil health

Similar to environmental stewardship, the SFI will support approaches to farming that deliver better biodiversity, including actions to improve soil health, hedgerows and integrated pest management.

This could include, for example, payments to farmers who manage and plant hedgerows to provide year-round food, shelter and breeding cover for birds and insects, or take actions to boost soil organic matter.

Defra secretary George Eustice said the goal was to properly reward farmers for undertaking environmental measures. He added: “The ethos at the
heart of our future policy is to support the choices of individual farm enterprises.”

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said the union wanted it to be possible for most farms to take up the scheme. He added: “Every farm business is unique, and the scheme needs to be structured so that it offers something for every farmer.”

Mr Bradshaw said the scheme must be engaging for farmers, simple to enter and deliver and operate effectively alongside productive food production. He added: “Most importantly of all, the scheme needs to enable farmers to run profitable businesses. We understand the pilot is very much a work in progress and it is imperative that Defra uses it to work with farmers to test and develop a scheme that works and is accessible to all farm businesses.”

Farmers will need to complete a simple online form to submit expressions of interest in the new scheme. Successful candidates will then be invited to complete an application to join a pilot agreement from October 2021.

Farmers have until 11 April to submit an expression of interest. For further information about the SFI, visit www.bit.ly/FarmIncentive