Defra Secretary George Eustice has set out further detail about what the Government’s 2022 Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) will look like.
A pilot will take place in autumn this year to ‘help with implementation’ of the early version of the scheme, though participating farmers will be paid on an income foregone basis, as reported by Farmers Guardian last year.
Farmers participating in the pilot will be able to select from an initial set of eight standards based on specific features such as soil, grassland, hedgerows, waterbodies or woodland.
Each standard contains several actions which farmers can apply to their own farms in order to receive payment.
It is hoped that when the scheme itself is rolled out in 2022, a natural capital approach to pricing will be prepared, so farmers can be better rewarded for providing public goods.
Speaking at NFU conference, Defra Secretary George Eustice said: “On things like capital items, you reimburse those on a cost basis, obviously, but there are other interventions you can make which have multiple environmental benefits and actually help the whole ecosystem recover.
“A flower-rich meadow used as a grass ley can have multiple benefits for invertebrates, for farmland birds, for soil structure and for carbon sequestration.
“If you get that right, it really is worth paying for. So we are likely to be looking at some of those keystone interventions which have multiple benefits and rewarding them far more generously than the existing Countryside Stewardship scheme would.”
Mr Eustice also denied Countryside Stewardship agreement holders would get less cash under the SFI because the schemes covered ‘different areas’ – an issue industry had raised concerns about.
“If there is a direct overlap, there could be some issues around dual funding, but I think the way we are designing the standards will avoid most of those sort of issues,” he told FG.
“Certainly we want all of those farmers who are currently in Countryside Stewardship schemes to also access the SFI.”
Defra plans to expand the SFI in the years ahead, adding more standards over time, including the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.
Approaches such as payments by results, greater rewards for ambitious actions and partnership working with conservation organisations or accreditation schemes to assist in delivery will continue to be explored.