Review of The Sustainable Farming Incentive


Sustainable Farming Incentive.JPG

Announcements on the next set of Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) Actions are long overdue, with some future Actions yet to be confirmed. However, the recent release of the 2023 SFI Handbook is very welcome as it offers land managers a more flexible and simplified opportunity to receive payments.

Bidwells’ Jessica Malings discusses some of the detail within this Handbook. 

Overview of handbook

Finally, after months of growing frustration, farmers, landowners and land managers now have clarity on the detail of the SFI Actions - how the application process will work and what the payment rates will be. This will enable land managers to receive payments for adopting and maintaining sustainable farming practices that protect and improve the environment. It will only partially fill the gap left by the reduction in the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), but it will provide some additional income, although it is not ‘money for nothing’.    

Not surprisingly, the changes to the Government’s Environmental Land Management (ELMs) strategy and roll-out of the SFI 2023 offer has been far from easy to follow and the devil really has been in the detail. It does, at last, seem that this Government has listened to feedback from farmers/land managers and those who have invested valuable time being involved in the pilot schemes.  The Actions do seem to be ‘less prescriptive’ than comparable Options within the Countryside Stewardship Schemes (CSS) currently available, with similar if not the same payment rates.

read more >


Sustainable Farming Incentive – Positives 

We can now see, and understand, what is going to be paid for Actions and how to meet the action aims. It should be noted that throughout the Handbook, the required management for the Actions that are a variation of a CSS Option, for example Winter Bird Feed, are substantially less prescriptive within SFI. For example, the minimum area has been removed; however, there are some new prescriptions, so it is vital to look at the Actions and make sure these are achievable.

The overall vision of the RPA is to be flexible, and several Actions include the following text: ‘you must do what is required in the SFI actions, but it is up to you how you complete them as long as you do it in a way that can reasonably be expected to achieve the action aim. This is so that you make the Actions work for your farm’.

Under Section 5.3 of the Handbook, the approach of the RPA is to be ‘new, supportive and pragmatic', when checking compliance with the agreement; the RPA states that they will offer ‘advice and guidance’ to fix issues.

SFI agreements will run for 3 years compared to the 5 years of CSS, and tenant farmers may enter without landlord’s written consent (subject to tenancy terms), even where tenancies are continuing annually, provided the tenant expects to have “management control”  for the 3-year period.

read more >

Sustainable Farming Incentive – Concerns

With 23 simplified Actions on offer, SFI 2023 is a vast improvement on the scheme that was initially expected in 2023; however looking at the detail, the types of Actions on offer lack imagination, with about 15 Actions being a variation on current CSS Options or SFI 2022. Another 30 additional Actions are proposed for schemes in 2024, to include further Actions for grassland, woodland, boundaries, waterbodies, agro-forestry, moorland actions, precision farming and tillage practices. One will need to monitor the proposed Actions closely to make sure these can be utilised on farm when available.  

In addition, the controlled/phased rollout, which was expected to begin from August, was rather vague given that there were decisions to be made to apply for a CSS agreement prior to the deadline of 15th September. Businesses undergoing changes of structure or creating new SBIs for non-grant reasons will need to wait until ‘at least 2024’ to apply, this again is vague as it could be the end of 2024 before these businesses will be able to apply and therefore, they may well miss out.

read more >

Analysis & Viewpoint

We can only welcome the freedom to manage these Actions in a way to suit the individual farms but are looking forward to helping to interpret the vague statements throughout the Handbook and hope that these rules are not interpreted in differing ways when it comes to compliance with the actions. We await to see the new ‘pragmatic’ approach to breaches in practice and hope the ‘supportive’ stance is followed through.

It is worth all farmers/land managers considering this SFI offer and how it may benefit individual farms. However, given that details of further environmental opportunities are still largely unknown, careful consideration will need to be given to deciding what direction to take. It could be that for complex schemes the CSS route will be best, whereas for simpler schemes the SFI is more than likely the way forward. There could be situations where a combined CSS and SFI application would fit or where SFI Actions could be added to eligible land parcels within a current CSS agreement. Careful on-farm management will be required to ensure compliance with the schemes.

read more >

If you have any queries or would like further information on the Sustainable Farming Incentive or other grants, please do contact our Agriculture & Environment team.


Get in touch


Ian Ashbridge

Partner, Head of Agriculture & Environment

Ian combines fundamental technical farming knowledge with wider investment and real estate experience when advising his clients.

Read more

Jessica Malings

Senior Consultant, Agriculture & Environment

Jessica is a consultant in Bidwells' agriculture and environment team.

Read more

Helen Peirson

Associate, Agriculture & Environment

Helen is an associate in our agriculture and environment team.

Read more

David Watson

Partner, Agriculture & Environment

With over three decades of hands experience in farming and estate management, David is the perfect person to consult on your farming operations.

Read more
White background - busy

Search Bidwells