Increases to SFI and Countryside Stewardship schemes announced at OFC

Delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference heard from Farming Minister Mark Spencer about proposed increases to the Countryside Stewardship and Sustainable Farming Incentive schemes.

The Minister explained how DEFRA was planning to release more money for farmers and landowners in order to support the sector and drive uptake of environmental schemes. There was also a promise of further actions to be included within the scheme, to be published soon.

Aimed at attracting smaller businesses, many of them tenant farmers, into the environmental schemes, a Management Payment of £20/hectare for the first 50 hectares will be made. Farmers are already being paid to improve soil and moorland and more standards will be announced soon.

The 30,000 plus farmers already in a Countryside Stewardship scheme will see an average increase of 10 per cent to their revenue payment rates, covering things such as habitat management. As an example, the payment rate for in-field grass strips are increasing from £624 per hectare to £659 per hectare. A one-off payment for projects such as hedgerow creation will attract an updated capital payment rate of an average 48 per cent increase. Currently hedgerow creation is £11.60 per metre. This will ride to £22.97 per metre.

Making the announcement, Spencer said: ‘My challenge to our great industry is simple – this year, take another look at the Environmental Land Management schemes and think about what options and grants will help support your farm. As custodians of more than 70% of our countryside, the nation is relying on its farmers to protect our landscapes as well as produce the high-quality food we are known for, and we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment.’

The news hasn’t been universally welcomed. Quoted in The Guardian newspaper, Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said: ‘Today’s announcement shows government is listening and adapting to the concerns of farmers. It reduces uncertainty, supports proper valuations and creates stronger incentives for a wider range of farms to enter into the schemes. All this is to be welcomed, but everything is moving just too slowly. We have had many promises of improvements in the future, but what we desperately need are details of payment rates and standards for 2023.’

And the NFU were more disparaging, calling it ‘too little, too late.’ David Exwood, vice-president NFU, said: ‘I regret that farmers and growers are making crucial long-term decisions that are essential to running viable and profitable food-producing businesses without the vital clarity needed on Elms and options that will be available.’

The full DEFRA announcement can be read here.