More to do in delivering promised support for farmers

14 September 2023

Landscape image with farm buildings in the background

In the wake of Back British Farming Day, the NFU has welcomed a number of government announcements on farming and growing, but warns that more still needs to be done on the key issue of farm support, with many farmers facing a cash-flow crisis.

After one of the most challenging years in farming – record extremes in weather, a cost of living crisis, huge agricultural inflation, supply chains disputed and the resulting empty supermarket shelves – the NFU had called for government to “do the right thing” and bridge the massive financial black hole in farm support caused by problems with the changeover in support schemes from the old Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) to the new Sustainable Farm Incentive (SFI).

Serious challenges have been mounting with significant delays to the start of the SFI, which should have been up and running to deliver payments by December. At the same time farmers are facing ongoing reductions in BPS, with the pot being reduced by £720 million so far.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “We have heard a number of welcome announcements this week, and credit where it’s due, farmers will be pleased government has listened to them. But the backdrop to these pieces of good news is that many farmers continue to face a bleak end to the year, with money they were promised, and rely on, not coming.

“While we have been working hard to prepare for changes to the essential support schemes that support farming and environmental management, delays in the rollout of the new scheme, coupled with reductions in the current scheme, mean most farmers have been unable to access the new SFI while facing significant holes in their finances from the withdrawal of BPS.”

Speaking at the NFU’s Back British Farming Day reception in Parliament this week, Defra Secretary of State Therese Coffey unveiled a number of new measures in areas the NFU has long campaigned on.

Positive news for British farmers included support for a ‘buy British button’ in online supermarket shopping, a new grant scheme for rooftop solar panel installation, confirmation that farmers enrolling in new environmental support schemes will be able to use them to meet public procurement standards, and a new £4m fund to help upgrade small abattoirs to improve animal welfare, business efficiency and productivity.

Further, after the NFU had called on ministers to “do the right thing”, the Secretary of State recognised the issues with SFI, committing that those farmers able to sign up in October would be paid 25% of the money this year once their claims were agreed.

Mrs Batters said: “Today’s announcement will mean those farmers that are able to apply for SFI in October are being promised a percentage of their first payments before the end of the year.

“While this announcement will provide welcome progress, it doesn’t go far enough to deliver on the promises made countless times that the replacement to BPS would be open to all, less bureaucratic and offer a profitable and seamless transition from old to the new. What we have today, after years in the making, is still a million miles away.

“Under the current plans the SFI is open to the few and not the majority. The lack of budget transparency in Defra makes it almost impossible to know where the BPS money, initially earmarked for SFI in 2023-24, has gone.

“In the short-term, we need the government to bridge the gap it has created in taking away one set of payments before delivering access to their replacements by ensuring farm support payments made in December are not capped as currently planned.”

More information

The problems with SFI do not only affect farmers. The government has legislated environmental targets through this new scheme – called “public money for public goods” – and farmers have embraced that concept. With the scheme delayed, a lot of on-farm environmental work it is designed to pay for cannot begin.

Ministers had committed that SFI 2023 would be open in August, with payments coming in December. But it will now only be partially open and not until mid-September.

Farmers were able to register "an expression of interest" on 30 August, with a handful then expecting "an invitation to apply" meaning the scheme was "technically" open, but the reality is very different. It takes some months between a farmer being accepted on to the scheme and payment being made.

Consequently, payments many farmers were relying on will not come this year. By comparison, the old EU farm payments scheme, known as BPS, had 83,000 claimants.

Defra has announced that the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023 will accept applications from 18 September. Farmers and growers have been able to register their interest from Wednesday 30 August.

Find the latest news and information on SFI including a timeline of changes to the scheme.