Farmers are being encouraged to apply for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme and look at the farm business strategy as a whole with the phase-out of the Basic Payment Scheme by 2027.
This is according to agri consultant at Brown & Co, Rob Meadley, who Terravesta recently co-hosted a Miscanthus farm walk with. Speaking at the event, he urged farmers to take a look and consider actions for ‘low hanging fruit’ within the SFI scheme. But he warns that it’s important to check that the land use/cover matches the action eligibility you want to take on that land.
Low hanging fruit within the SFI scheme
“There are at least three actions which are worth looking at,” he said.
The first, he explained, is SAM1, which advocates you ‘Assess soil, test soil organic matter and produce a soil management plan’ giving you £5.80 per hectare (ha) and an additional payment of £95 per agreement. “Organic matter testing is usually an optional extra with your soil lab, so there would be an additional cost per land parcel required, but this shouldn’t be high,” he said.
The second action to look at is IPM1 which is to produce an ‘Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.’ “It’s something farmers will do anyway and can qualify you for £989/year,”
Similarly, Rob said, NUM1 is something most arable farmers will be doing anyway and is to ‘Assess nutrient management and produce a review report (agreement level SFI action)’. “Once you have produced a plan, it can be reviewed each year.”
“Also, applicants should receive a management payment for applying for the scheme which assists with the application and management costs, which is £20/ha up to a maximum of 50ha, so the maximum payment you can receive is £1000,” explained Rob.
“If you have hedges, you may qualify for a hedgerow assessment payment. HRW1 can gets you £3.00 per hundred metres per side of hedge. There are also hedge management opportunities (HRW2), which can deliver £10/100 metres.
“As well as these, winter cover crops are very popular, right through to establishing herbal leys which are to be grazed and cut,” he said.
How to apply and when to expect payments
Providing you and your land are eligible, anyone can apply for a Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) agreement in 2023, including those with 2022 agreements. From 19 October this month, most farmers will no longer need to submit registrations of interest, they will be able to apply directly online.
“After applying for the SFI scheme online, an agreement is supposed to be turned around within a week or so, but at the moment it’s taking longer. Once you have an agreement, payments should start three months after this date, and will be issued quarterly,” said Rob.
“It’s important to note that when you apply online for SFI in the Rural Payments service, you will see the land parcels currently linked to your Single Business Identifier (SBI). You will also see the available area for SFI in those land parcels, based on registered, eligible land covers.
“If these details aren’t up to date, it will affect which land parcels you can select to include in your application. Do check your digital maps too. For more information, read the guidance about checking your land before you apply,” said Rob.
Miscanthus SFI payments
Miscanthus growers will qualify for payments ranging from £5.80 per hectare to £673 per hectare, with the potential for additional yearly payments for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and nutrition management plans covering the entire farm.
According to Rob, these payments will be determined using the Rural Payments Agency’s (RPA) land mapping system. “It seems that some activities related to Miscanthus crops will only be eligible for Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments if the entire field is classified under the ‘permanent crops’ land cover category within the RPA land mapping system. If, for instance, part of the field falls under the ‘arable’ or ‘permanent grassland’ category, this will affect the specific actions that Miscanthus farmers can claim for,” he said.
He underlined again that while they are awaiting more information from DEFRA regarding SFI payments, it is evident that farmers need to ensure that the land’s use/cover aligns with the actions they wish to pursue.
The following payments are applicable to Miscanthus crops within the ‘permanent crops’ land cover category:
- £673 per hectare for flower-rich grass margins or in-field strips (IPM2).
- £45 per hectare for refraining from using insecticides on arable and permanent crops (IPM4).
- £5.80 per hectare for soil assessment, soil organic matter testing, and the development of a soil management plan, with an additional £95 available per agreement (SAM1).
Rob pointed out that this announcement simplifies and enhances the SFI programme for Miscanthus, particularly the straightforward no-insecticide requirement for the crop. However, he highlighted that if Miscanthus covers only a portion of a field, and the applicant wishes to implement IPM4 exclusively on the Miscanthus, the application must cover the entire field area.
Additionally, there are actions eligible for permanent crops that are paid on an annual basis, but cover the entire farm:
- £989 per year for assessing Integrated Pest Management and creating a plan, applicable to whole farms classified under the permanent crops category (IPM1).
- £589 per year for assessing nutrient management and producing a review report, relevant to entire farms under the permanent crops category (NUM1).
Need advice on SFI?
Terravesta can advise on Miscanthus payments only, and for more information on general SFI payments read the handbook. Rob Meadley at Brown & Co has funding from the Defra (Future Farm Resilience Fund) to offer advice to farmers at no cost, please email Robert.Meadley@brown-co.com to learn more, or to speak to the Terravesta team, email email@example.com.