Defra has announced the addition of six standards to the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

The additional standards mean farmers can now also receive payment for actions on hedgerows, grassland, arable and horticultural land, pest management and nutrient management.

They build on the three existing standards to improve soil health and moorlands introduced in 2022 – which nearly 1,900 farmers already have in agreements, according to Defra.

‘Heart of the economy’

“Farmers are at the heart of our economy – producing the food on our tables as well as being the custodians of the land it comes from,” said environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey.

“These two roles go hand-in-hand and we are speeding up the roll out of our farming schemes so that everyone can be financially supported as they protect the planet while producing food more sustainably.”

Industry reaction

Responding to the news, NFU vice president David Exwood said: “It’s encouraging that Defra has provided us with more detail on the future of the ELM programme and brought forward a broader, more flexible offer for the SFI.

“Information on the six new standards for SFI 2023, payments rates, as well as the evolving Countryside Stewardship scheme, is incredibly useful and provides some of the clarity we have been asking for.

“For farmers and growers making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food producing businesses, it’s vital they have the full scheme details as soon as possible and know how the different schemes will work together. A speedy application and payment process will also be key to give farm businesses some much-needed security.

“If ELMs is to be successful, we’ve always said that it needs to be simple, provide certainty and fairly reward farmers for taking part. This means schemes being developed that are inclusive and available to every farm business – whether upland or lowland, tenant or owner-occupied.

“British farmers are committed to delivering net zero agriculture by 2040, and the NFU remains committed to working with Defra to improve its ELM offer. It’s in all our interests to ensure sustainable, climate-friendly British farming in the future, with farmers producing food alongside their work in maintaining and protecting the environment.”