Horticulture businesses have been ‘ignored’ in Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) pilot, NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw has said.
Though two of the eight standards farmers can use to build their agreement on land and soils include the word ‘horticultural’, in reality, horticulture businesses have been excluded from the pilot because participants need a Single Business Identifier (SBI) number from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).
Speaking on Farmers Guardian’s latest Over the Farmgate trade and policy podcast, Mr Bradshaw said: “Horticulture has been ignored.
“I understand the complexity of this, because generally they are working on a different scale and tend to have a very high output, so trying to find a rate which works for the horticultural industry, but also other sectors, could be pretty challenging.
“But at the moment, they do feel they have been left out of the scheme – or included in name only.”
Mr Bradshaw also raised concerns about the prescriptive nature of the SFI pilot, which gives farmers no flexibility to decide which options are appropriate for their circumstances.
“In one of the grassland standards, it talks about cutting sileage at different times,” he said.
“If you have got a contractor coming to your farm to do all your sileage operation, it is going to be just about impossible to meet that target. Then you are not eligible for any other part of that level.
“That gives me real cause for concern and a much more flexible approach would be far more appropriate.”
Despite these misgivings, Mr Bradshaw and the other guest on the podcast, AHDB strategic insight manager Sarah Baker, both believed the scheme would be deliverable in the long run.
“The move to monthly payments is hugely beneficial to cash flow,” said Ms Baker.
“It means any tweaks or teething problems can be ironed out in the next month’s payment, not the next year’s payment.
“That recognition that farmers cannot wait 12 months for the money is a huge step forward.”
Both Mr Bradshaw and Ms Baker also urged as many farmers as possible to express an interest in joining the pilot in order to improve the scheme before national rollout in 2024.
Mr Bradshaw said: “If we really want to shape this scheme into something which does work alongside productive agriculture, the best way to do that is to get involved and try and shape it from the inside.”