Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) payments under the ELM scheme will be made to farmers growing Miscanthus, as part of new standards announced by Defra on 26 January 2023.
Defra is introducing the standards this year to help progress towards environment and climate goals, and the revised policy paper states that ‘permanent crops’ such as Miscanthus improve the health and functionality of the soil to deliver multiple benefits and outcomes, including:
- long-term climate resilience
- increased biodiversity
- sustainable food production
- improved water quality
Permanent crops definition
Permanent crops are defined as non-rotational crops that usually occupy the land for five years or more (other than permanent grassland) and provide repeated harvests.
This includes ‘non-horticultural ‘multi-annual’ crops, such as Miscanthus and Defra states that ‘As well as being critical to sustainable food production and important for bioenergy, permanent crops have the potential to provide important habitats and food sources for wildlife. The land they are grown on can also be managed to improve soil health and water quality.’
Other perennial biomass crops listed under the new standards include reed canary grass and tree species grown as short rotation coppice.
The specific payment rates will be published later in 2023, with agreements starting in 2025.
Defra states that it already pays for actions to support the sustainable management of soils on cultivated land used to grow multi-annual horticultural crops through the SFI arable and horticultural soils standard. These actions are:
- completing a soil assessment and producing a soil management plan
- testing soil organic matter
- adding organic matter
- having green cover on at least 70% of the land in the standard over winter (with the 70% including 20% multi-species cover crops at the intermediate level)
In addition to what is already available, Defra plans to pay for new actions in SFI on land used to grow permanent crops covering:
- an adviser visit to assess and advise on integrated pest management and help to produce a plan
- an adviser visit to review and improve nutrient use efficiency
- establishing and maintaining in-field flower-rich strips, which will provide habitat for natural pest enemies
- no use of insecticide
In future, payments will also cover:
- tillage practices, including no till and direct drilling
- using precision farming approaches
There are also other actions likely to be relevant to those managing permanent crops. This includes those covered in the sections on waterbodies, boundaries, lowland peat, woodland, trees and agroforestry, wetlands, species recovery and management and heritage.
Our commitment to continuing to improve low carbon practices
Miscanthus receives no cultivation during its long-life span. However, at Terravesta we are going further, by trying to reduce soil disturbance at the time of planting, and before planting.
“When preparing the land for Miscanthus planting, we’re using ‘min-till’ cultivations to reduce carbon emissions,” says Russell Fraser, Terravesta’s operations manager.
Read the full policy paper here.