Environmental Land Management Scheme: latest details

23 March 2021

Preliminary details on the pilot schemes for the “Sustainable Farm Initiative (SFI)” were released on 10th March along with confirmation that qualifying farmers will be able to apply to take place in the pilot trials from later that month. The SFI is the first part of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which will ultimately replace the existing Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidy, now in the process of being phased out.

It is intended that most farmers will be able to enter the SFI scheme. Roll out will begin in 2022 and initially all existing BPS claimants will be able to enter. In the meantime, those wishing to enter the pilot scheme (broadly BPS claimants who have land in England which is not in existing agri-environment schemes) will be able to volunteer from the end of March with agreements commencing in October.

Interestingly, the paper gives details of the payments which can be claimed under the pilot scheme in addition to an undisclosed “participation”” fee. Whilst it is stressed that the pilot payments will not be the same as the payments in the “live” scheme, and “updated payment rates for the launch of the SFI Scheme for 2022 are currently being developed”, it does give some idea of their possible magnitude.

Initially the standards which make up the scheme include separate criteria for horticultural and arable land and soils, similar standards for improved and low input grassland, and standards for hedgerows, woodland and waterbody buffering. Although SFI payments cannot be claimed for land which is already receiving existing agri-environment payments, support can be claimed under different standards for the same parcel – so for example a field with hedges and a watercourse could be eligible under the hedgerow standard, watercourse standard and both the land and soil standards. Each standard has three different achievement levels each with its own payment rate. Further standards are likely to be added to the package in due course. It would appear that during the phasing out period both BPS and SFI could be claimed on the same land.

To take an example, a 10Ha field with 1500 m of hedgerows and 550 m of buffer strips claiming at the highest rate for the four relevant packages might receive about £1900 made up from land and soil standards of £74 and £59/Ha and hedgerow and water payments of £24 and £34 per 100m. By comparison, under the BPS rates, and subject to satisfactory greening, the same field might have received a subsidy of about £2300.

Clearly it will not be possible to determine the exact financial impact until actual SBI rates (rather than pilot rates) have been determined, but in the meantime those who wish to participate in the pilot schemes need to express an interest, and those who want to know more about SBI can access the full 25 page document at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sustainable-farming-incentive-scheme-pilot-launch-overview

Commenting on the proposals, our Agriculture & Rural Business Partner, Joe Spencer remarked;

“It would have been great to see some more concrete payment data, but this paper makes interesting reading. We know that BPS payments are on the way out, and farmers will now be able to see exactly how they will need to make their operations greener in future to qualify for the optimal SBI income."

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