The new schemes are being put in place following the UK’s departure from the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the SFI is open to all farmers who currently receive the Basic Payment Scheme – part of CAP.
“The Sustainable Farming Incentive is designed to be accessible and recognises the importance of domestic food production to our national resilience,” said Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis.
“We want to support farmers with the choices they take for their farms, and I urge them to apply.”
The Department for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it has taken a number of steps to make the SFI accessible to farmers by making it more straightforward to apply and simplifying the requirements.
“This allows farmers the flexibility to decide how best to achieve the standards set out in the scheme and how much of their land they want to put into SFI,” a Defra spokesperson said.
Farmers will receive their first payment three months after joining the scheme and will then receive quarterly payments.
“There will also be no ‘old-style’ application window, which allows farmers to enrol in the SFI scheme at any point in the year.
“Payment rates are more targeted and less prescriptive than previous EU schemes,” Ms Prentis said.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) said it was encouraging farmers to review what is available for their farm business as well as reiterating its commitment to work with Defra to improve the scheme to make it inclusive and viable for all farmers.
“Today is an important day for farmers in England,” said NFU vice president, David Exwood.
“I would encourage all farmers to review the options that are available to them under the SFI. There will be practical options available for many farms but it is for every farm business to decide what works for them. That factor alone will ultimately determine the success of the SFI.
“The NFU has been consistent in its view that there is much more to do to ensure this scheme is open to every farm business, for example tenant farmers, with viable options for all that couple sustainable food production with viable environmental measures.
“Our aim has always been for these new schemes to fairly reward farmers for those public goods and to continue and enhance this work.”
Mr Exwood said that the NFU remains committed to working with Defra to improve its ELM schemes. In particular, the NFU is arguing that Defra needs to offer farmers a net zero standard, which starts with soil and includes a consistent approach to measuring progress on farms, and that schemes need to ensure the viability of farming in our precious uplands.
Mark Tufnell, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), said: “We recognise it is a time of uncertainty for farmers, but encourage everyone to look at the new schemes with an open mind.
“As farmers we do not have to choose between our role in feeding the nation, and our role as stewards of the natural environment. We can do both. As a result, it is important that these schemes work.”