The actions in the scheme are intended to be universal and straightforward for farmers to undertake in the course of their farming activities. Farmers should be able to apply for and participate in the scheme without needing specialist advice, unless they choose specific actions which may require specialist advice for which we will pay.
Many of the actions we will pay for in SFI will help farmers reduce their costs and improve their efficiency as well as help improve the natural environment and reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the nutrient and integrated pest management standards can help farmers optimise their use of inputs, helping them to reduce costs whilst also potentially maintaining or improving yields. The actions in other new SFI standards can enable farmers to generate an income from unproductive corners and edges of fields, using hedgerows to improve productivity (for example as windbreaks or shelterbelts), and improving soil health. The payments in the standards are also intended to support and de-risk the transition for farmers wanting to adopt more sustainable farming approaches.
Building on recommendations from farming organisations and tenant farmers (including early feedback from the Rock Review), agreements last for three years in SFI; tenant farmers do not require landlord consent to take part; and the payments in the scheme go to the farmer who is doing the work. Tenants on shorter tenancy agreements (including licences that operate like tenancies) can enter that land into the scheme if they expect to have management control of it, and they can leave without penalty if they unexpectedly lose management control during the three years. We will build further on this work as we respond to the recommendations of the Rock Review.
So far, we have introduced three SFI standards and an annual health and welfare review. We are also running a pilot with 850 farmers who are testing a wider range of standards with us. We have learned a lot about how the scheme needs to be straightforward but also flexible and less prescriptive, so that it works for the range of different farm types, sizes and locations. This flexibility goes hand in hand with our new approach to controls within schemes, where we are taking a fairer, more pragmatic and proportionate approach. We also want to offer payment rates that are sufficiently attractive for farmers to change their existing practices and maintain sustainable practices.
Based on this learning, the new sets of actions we plan to introduce in 2023 will be accessible and flexible, so that farmers can choose the combination of actions that works for their farm setting.
As we continue to develop the scheme, we plan to incentivise farmers to carry out actions in combinations and at a scale and level of ambition that is more likely to deliver successful, significant results. This is important to ensure that the scheme enables farmers to deliver the goods and services needed to achieve our environment and climate targets.
We want to make this scheme accessible to all farmers – from those who are just starting to get involved with sustainable practices, to those who are already leading the pack. We will enable farmers collectively to increase their activity and level of impact over time. To support this, we are allowing farmers to expand their agreements over time, and building in support and incentives to encourage and enable this.