Sustainable Farming Incentive

Sustainable Farming Incentive

Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

The Sustainable Farming Incentive will act as a stepping stone towards the national rollout of the Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme in 2024. The scheme will start with a pilot in October 2021, with the aim of making it available to all Basic Payment Scheme claimants in March 2022. Farms and landowners will be able to claim this alongside other stewardship agreements. 

Farmers will be paid for producing a range of public goods which help to improve biodiversity, tackle climate change and lead to cleaner water and air.

How will the SFI pilot work?

Defra will be inviting farmers from 15 March to submit an online ‘expression of interest’ form to take part in the SFI pilot. Successful candidates will then be invited to complete an application and, if eligible, will enter into a pilot agreement starting from October 2021.The scheme is looking for several hundred farmers to sign up from a good mix of farms and locations in England.

Farmers who are accepted onto the pilot will be paid for the land management options that they choose, along with a pilot participation payment to reflect the time and costs associated with taking part.

“The Sustainable Farming Incentive will allow farmers to take a fresh look at the land they farm, the natural assets they have and decide what will work best for their own individual holding,” said Defra secretary George Eustice.

Who can apply to take part in the SFI pilot?

Farmers will only be eligible if they:

  • Are a recipient of the Basic Payments Scheme, registered on the Rural Payments Agency system 
  • Enter land parcels into the pilot that do not have an existing agri-environment agreement on them 
  • Have management control of the land for the duration of the pilot
  • Enter land parcels that are in England only and are not common land.

SFI Management Options

Farmers taking part will be able to select from an initial eight standards to build their own farm agreements, helping to promote greener landscapes, cleaner air and water, and guarding against climate change and flooding. Additional standards will be introduced as the pilot progresses.

For example, on the hedgerow standard farmers will receive £16 per 100m by leaving areas of hedgerow uncut each year to increase the amount of pollen, nectar and berries. But they could raise this payment to £24 per 100m by also having more frequent hedgerow trees and buffer strips alongside the hedges.

Similarly, arable farmers signing up to the arable and horticultural standard would get £28/ha for providing year-round resources for farmland birds and insects, following a nutrient management plan and minimising ammonia emissions by rapidly incorporating muck and slurry on ploughed land.

To get the higher payment of £74/ha, they would also be required to have areas of tall vegetation and scrub to provide shelter for wildlife, locate habitats for crop pest predators next to cropped areas and use precision farming equipment to apply fertilisers and manures.

Participants will be able to shape their own agreements by choosing which standards they want to apply for and on which land parcels.

Farmers can choose a different level for each standard – avoiding the need to pick a level of difficulty which applies across all standards. Where appropriate, more than one standard can be applied to the same area of land.

What are the eight standards?

Standard Initial base rates (first phase of pilot only)
Arable and horticultural land standard from £28 up to £74 per hectare
Arable and horticultural soils standard from £30 up to £59 per hectare
Improved grassland standard from £27 up to £97 per hectare
Improved grassland soils standard from £6 up to £8 per hectare
Low and no input grassland standard from £22 up to £110 per hectare
Hedgerow standard from £16 up to £24 per 100 metres
On farm woodland standard £49 per hectare
Waterbody buffering standard from £16 up to £34 per 100 metres


Within each standard there will be three levels for participants to choose from – introductory, intermediate and advanced – with each level being more challenging, and more rewarding, than the previous level.

Where appropriate, more than one standard can be applied to the same area of land.

Initially, the payment rates offered will be in line with those available under Countryside Stewardship, but as the pilot progresses the payment rates are expected to evolve.

Farmers who participate in piloting will continue to receive their BPS payments, though these are set to be scaled back progressively over the next seven years.

They may also be involved in other agri-environment schemes, but not on the same parcel of land.

Pilot participants will also be asked to take part in a range of co-design activities, providing rapid feedback on their experience of all aspects of the process. Everyone will be paid a standard participation payment, regardless of how much land is entered or the level of difficulty of the standard.