MHA | Food or environment? – another change to the SFI rules

Food or environment? – another change to the SFI rules

Joe Spencer · April 11th 2024 · read

Farming land

Yet another change to the Sustainable Farm Incentive (SFI) scheme was announced on 25th March. In a somewhat belated recognition that food production is actually a quite important part of farming and land management, it was announced that there will be a cap on the proportion of land which can be put into some of the SFI options – specifically no more than 25% of the holding can be put into any combination of the following:

  • Flower-rich grass margins
  • Pollen and nectar flower mix
  • Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land
  • Grassy field corners and blocks
  • Improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management.
  •  Winter bird food on improved grassland.

Whilst this may not go down particularly well with some environmentalists, and clearly it is a broad-brush approach which does not recognise that some farms are more important for food production than others, it will probably not cause too much inconvenience for most commercial units and arguably is realigning the rules back to the original spirit of the scheme. In the words of the minister “The six actions we are capping were always intended to be implemented on smaller areas of land, and these changes will help to maintain this intention and continue our commitment to maintain domestic food production.”

Another announcement within the same press release was that, to date, over 15,000 SFI applications have been received. Or putting it another way, ONLY 15,000 farms are putting in place an alternative scheme to replace at least part of the subsidy income which is now over halfway through the abolition process. Since there were around 90,000 farms claiming BPS, it shows a worrying lack of engagement with the new regime.

Commenting on the changes, MHA agricultural partner Joe Spencer said

“it is good to see the recognition that food production is important- a point which the industry has been trying to make for some time – and it will take the SFI scheme back towards its original intention. However, it is clear from the relatively limited take up to date that the implementation process still has a long way to go. High commodity price, in particular, may have masked the impact of the BPS withdrawal so far, but as they fall back, the gap in cashflow will become much more visible”.
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