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Sustainable Farming Incentive

Posted by James Watchorn on 19th March 2021
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Sustainable Farming Incentive: Expression of Interest Now Open

As the UK transitions away from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the Basic Payment System, the Government has been preparing for the new post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS).  DEFRA has steadily been announcing updates on how they envisage this scheme to operate.  ELMS will be formed by three main schemes:

1)         The Sustainable Farming Incentive

2)         The Local Nature Recover Scheme and

3)         The Landscape Recovery Scheme

This latest update provides more information on how the Sustainable Farming Incentive may operate and includes dates of when the first phases of the scheme are to commence.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive will pay farmers to take actions to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way beyond the basic regulatory requirements.  These actions will be grouped into packages which allow farmers to identify which actions will be best suited to their farm. Each package will have three levels of participation from introductory participation to advanced participation with each level requiring a higher level of engagement but with a higher payment rate associated with this.

These packages will initially include:

  • Arable and horticultural land standard.
  • Arable and horticultural soils standard.
  • Improved grassland standard.
  • Improved grassland soils standard.
  • Low and no input grassland standard.
  • Hedgerow standard.
  • On farm woodland standard.
  • Waterbody buffering standard.

A Pilot scheme to test the incentive will start later this year and will be open to a small group of several hundred farmers. The expression of interest for farmers to enter this scheme has just been announced and is currently open until 11th April 2021.  This initial pilot will run from October 2021 until 2024 and will enable the first aspects of the incentive to be tested and refined during the pilot.

The initial Sustainable Farming Incentive is then expected to be launched from mid-2022 and will be open to all farmers currently eligible for BPS Payments.  During this scheme, DEFRA will continue to work with farmers to refine the scheme and make adjustments to ensure DEFRA’s objectives for the scheme are met and the scheme is attractive, simple, and effective for farmers.  DEFRA has emphasised that the early phase of the pilot scheme and the launch of the full scheme will be a period of learning and iteration as the scheme is improved, with more features and standards implemented and some removed if not effective.  Following the end of the pilot scheme in 2024, there will be a full expansion of the Sustainable Farming Incentive with all farmers invited to participate.

The expression of interest for the pilot scheme can be found on the DEFRA website, at:

The pilot scheme will enable the enrolled farmers to enrol in management standards they select and be paid for these at the agreed rate initially which will be increased if these rates are reviewed for the 2022 full expansion. These farmers in the pilot are also asked to help with DEFRA’s learning through paid for participation in surveys, group meetings ,workshops or other activities for around 10-15 hours a month.

The initial indication of some of the payment rates for the pilot scheme have been announced on the DEFRA website and are broadly inline with the payment rates provided by current countryside stewardship schemes. During the pilot, farmers will not be able to double claim for options that are also receiving payment from an alternative agri-environmental scheme.

More information on the initial payment rates and available management options can be found on the latest DEFRA update, at:


Michael Sills

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