Agriculture in England is going through the biggest change in a generation. This is an exciting time, and it is important we get it right.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is phasing out the EU's land-based subsidies and introducing new schemes that are designed to work for farmers' businesses, food production and the environment.
Food production is the primary purpose of farming. DEFRA is committed to maintain food security in the UK, and our policies and schemes are intended to work in a sustainable way alongside farmers to support this.
In the long term, sustainable food production will depend on healthy soil, good water quality and abundant pollinators. That is why farming and nature must go hand in hand. Many farmers are already thinking and working in this way. We in government need to get behind them, and help others to get involved by ensuring our policies and schemes work well for farmers' bottom line.
That's why we launched the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) last year, putting soil health front and centre. The SFI provides payments for actions that support food growth and can help improve farm productivity and resilience, while also protecting and improving the environment.
This year in turn, we have committed to make £180m of grants available, which will enable farmers to make changes to improve their productivity and overcome challenges. For instance, the Slurry Infrastructure grant is designed to help livestock farmers make better use of their slurries to meet crop need and cut pollution.
We are designing our schemes to reflect the range of different farm types, sizes and locations, so the new funding will offer something for everyone.
This year, we increased prices for farmers and landowners across the schemes. Next year, we will add Countryside Stewardship Plus, which will reward farmers for taking coordinated action, working with neighbouring farms and landowners to support climate and nature aims.
We've also just responded to Baroness Rock's review into tenant farming, building on the work we've done with tenants in our tests and trials so far to make our schemes accessible to them.
For common land, we are also including an extra payment to help cover the administration costs of sorting out an agreement between multiple people. Meanwhile, we have recently confirmed changes, responding to farmer feedback, to make sure that upland farmers get paid fairly and can better access our schemes.
That is why we are:
And we won't repeat the mistakes of the past, when 50% of basic payments went to the 10% of landowners with the largest holdings. We want to encourage more smaller farms to join our schemes, so are introducing SFI management payments to help cover the administration costs that fall disproportionately on smaller enterprises.
Historically, environmental land management schemes have had a reputation for being complex. Our new schemes, such as the SFI, are by comparison designed to be straightforward and require minimal paperwork. For example, applying for a free vet visit under the SFI takes around eight-and-a-half minutes.
Farmers will be able to apply for SFI in a controlled rollout from August. This means we will ask people who want to apply to get in touch. The Rural Payments Agency will advise on your next steps and arrange for you to apply.
Initially, we will manage applications in a controlled way so that we can make sure everyone gets the service and support they need. There will be no application window, either, so farmers can seek grants when it suits them.
They will get their SFI agreement within two months of applying, and they should start getting paid three months later. Payments are made quarterly to help with cash flow.
We've also improved CS applications after listening to farmers' feedback, and have introduced a new, improved online service for these similar to the SFI. From next year, farmers will be able to access all our schemes in one place.
Finally, we're not being prescriptive. Farmers can choose the combination of schemes that work best for their businesses, rather than having to complete a group of standardised actions as was previously the case.
This allows them the flexibility to focus on providing environmental outcomes that work alongside food production. For example, SFI actions explain what we want farmers to achieve, but they decide how to do it.
When things go wrong, we will first try to help farmers remedy the situation, starting with an assumption of good faith rather than wrongdoing. We're focusing on the serious breaches and stopping disproportionate penalties for things that aren't.
And if you think there's something missing from our current offerings, then please get in touch.
Recently, farming minister Mark Spencer confirmed the details of the SFI 2023 offer, giving more information on the management payment, and how those already in agreements can access funding.
The SFI handbook provides the detail in a single document, including information on how to combine CS and SFI actions. Other funding available for farmers, land managers and foresters is detailed in online government guidance.
From August farmers will be able to:
In combination with CS, we have an offer, including grants and other funding, that is attractive and workable for all kinds of farm, with even more actions and grants coming in future years. Eligible farmers will be able to apply for a total of 23 actions in the controlled rollout from August, including those related to soil health, hedgerow management, provision of food and habitats for wildlife, managing pests and more effective use of nutrients.
These schemes are about improving the countryside that we've stewarded for generations, and putting food on the plates of people across the nation and around the world.