For the latest indication of the types of problems and opportunities that are likely to arise with the SFI 2022 and onwards, find out about my personal opinions and our clients experiences in the pilot to help you understand what this part of ELMs could mean for your own business. 

Alasdair Squires

01392 823935

4/10/21 The next stage now involves waiting for agreements to be issued, the RPA state there will be a brief opportunity to amend applications before final confirmation, with the opportunity to add more parcels and standards. Agreements are set to start in November with the first quarterly payment from February.
30/9/21 All our client’s applications have now been submitted, with a wide range of standards and ambition levels selected. Whilst many are excited to provide feedback and be part of shaping the future of sustainable farming, there have been several issues with the application process, whether SBIs not showing up as linked to the scheme or business owners not being given the correct access levels. As we move towards the feedback aspect of the pilot there are concerns over whether these or similar issues will persist. Some clients are wary and now ask us to deal with this aspect of the pilot on their behalf.
25/9/21 With the deadline fast approaching some clients are still deciding whether to submit an application due to concerns over complying with the standards. One of the selling points however, is DEFRA’s stated aim of increased flexibility in terms of adding parcels at a later date and amending standards and ambition levels. DEFRA intend to introduce ways of amending applications from May next year. Put a few parcels that you know can comply with a standard into the pilot, then you have the option of expanding your agreement as you get to grips with it. The RPA will also benefit from more feedback on this amending process before the SFI is opened to the wider farming community.
21/9/21 We have been reported issues to the RPA of land parcels registered on RPA Online as Permanent Grassland not showing up as available when selecting the ‘Low and no input grassland’ standard.
9/9/21 Due to the extended deadline for applications the first agreements will now start from November rather than October as initially planned. Payments will also now be quarterly rather than monthly as was previously intended.
7/9/21 The RPA have informed us there has been an update and everyone on the pilot should now have access to the application tab.
2/9/21 As well as permission levels for the Environmental Land Management tab not being set at the correct levels, some clients are able to start the application only to be told their SBI is not recognised as having been invited onto the pilot. This is despite receiving emails that the application window is open and that now they may apply.
25/8/21 Following feedback, the RPA have extended the application deadline to 30th September. This will allow issues with permission levels to be resolved and provides further opportunity for land parcels to be amended or added to a claim.

An issue has arisen with the application process with almost half of the clients invited to submit an application not given the correct permission levels by the RPA to access the new Environmental Land Management tab on the RPA Online, despite having full permissions for their businesses.

The RPA will not discuss this issue with agents unless the agent also has full business permissions even if we are not asking for permission for ourselves, but simply pointing out that a client ought to have this available. Once a client calls the RPA it can take several days for the issue to be resolved creating unnecessary pressure as the deadline approaches.

19/8/21 The Countryside Stewardship team have told us that removing a parcel from Stewardship and placing it into the Pilot will require the repayment of monies received up to this point, however this will be reviewed on a  case by case basis. This lack of clarity as we approach the submission deadline has created difficult choices for clients who were keen to be involved and reduced the number of parcels they are willing to put forward.
12/8/21 Having completed SFI HEFER reports,  some clients are affected and would require actions like no supplementary feeding of livestock on areas of affected parcels.
2/8/21 DEFRA state that removing parcels from a current Countryside Stewardship agreement to place them in the pilot will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the applicant will have to pay back payments made to this date. They have not yet confirmed what the criteria for this will be and we have requested clarification.

We are making decisions on whether it is better to leave certain parcels out of a standard if they have trouble meeting a standard’s requirements.

Some clients have raised concerns for the Low and no input grassland standard about their ability to maintain sward height on parcels let out to graziers.

Other clients are weighing up the benefits of taking a parcel out of stewardship to put in the Pilot. DEFRA have confirmed this is possible by informing both stewardship and SFI Pilot teams of the intention to do so.

There has been slight confusion around the format of multiple ambition levels with different levels of actions required for each standard. Most clients would prefer one option with ‘do this to receive this payment’, it is however a learning curve and other clients appreciate the extra flexibility to reduce or add the trickier actions.

The SFI Pilot opened this month and we have been working with our clients to put together their applications, deciding which standards are best suited to each parcel and discussing what each ‘ambition level’ means in terms of action and reward. Whilst DEFRA aimed to make the process as simple as possible, as with any new scheme, there have been points of uncertainty requiring further clarification. 

The ‘ambition’ levels that clients are willing to go for have been mixed with some wanting to enter at introductory level to keep things simple whilst those who have taken up Countryside Stewardship options in the past have found that in many areas, they are almost complying with requirements already and are happy to go in at an advanced level to maximise payments. 

The required feedback and participation payment has been an incentive to some who are eager to be involved in shaping the SFI. Others viewed the levels of input as too time consuming or technical and have requested us to take the lead in this aspect of the program. Further details of this part of the pilot are eagerly awaited. 

A few questions have been raised at this stage. Some clients have parcels in ongoing Countryside Stewardship agreements and are eager to place these in the pilot as well. Leaving an agreement early normally requires paying back payments received so far, but there was some early discussion on whether this would be waived for the pilot. There is also the problem of the timeframe, with the pilot application deadline being 1st September, would a parcel be removed in time, and would there be any conflict with the application? There is also no confirmed date for when applications are to be made for capital items.  

Overall, the response has been positive with our clients keen to get involved in the pilot. With BPS phasing out under way it makes sense to mitigate some of the financial loss by taking up its replacement as soon as possible. This will also apply to the wider rollout of SFI in 2022 as BPS and SFI are claimable on the same parcels; one popular option so far among our clients is the low and no input grassland standard, gaining them an extra £110/ha with the option of an extra £24/100m for the hedgerow standard if both are at advanced levels.

6/7/21 DEFRA have confirmed that those providing public benefits under an SFI will be able to sell their environmental goods to both government sources and on the open market where companies look to offset their footprint. To this end DEFRA intend to develop and promote private markets for these services. Read More 
1/7/21 So far, we have been involved in the SFI Pilot, which has given us a good idea of what is to follow in further rollouts of SFINow however, we have the first brief details of the 2022 early rollout SFI which will be available for everyone. Read More
30/6/21 The imminent launch of the SFI pilot scheme has provided an idea of what some of the SFI will look like before it is rolled out to the wider farming community. The following information is applicable to the first year of the pilot and may differ i following years. Pilot schemes are for testing and so changes are expected by 2024. Read More
15/3/21 The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has now opened for expressions of interest, which must be made by the 11th April, to start an agreement in 2022. The payments will be on top of the BPS payment. The SFI is tier one of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. Read More