Payments for SFI should have been ready to deliver by December however, critical delays in the roll-out of the new scheme has meant that farmers are unable to access it in that timescale.
Crucially, this coincides with major reductions in payments under BPS, leaving farmers facing a double whammy in the run-up to Christmas.
Farmers left in a ‘perilous place’
“We now know that farmers will not be paid this year, despite assurances that they would be,” said NFU President Minette Batters.
“With farm input costs through the roof and interest rates soaring, this leaves farmers in a perilous place.
“The old scheme goes, the new one’s not ready, and farm businesses are caught in the middle. That’s not fair and we are calling on ministers to recognise that and make it right.”
Wednesday 13 September 2023 marks the NFU’s annual Back British Farming Day – a celebration of our farmers and growers, our great food and the countryside, and of the people who make a huge contribution to the UK economy. “It would be great if government could have some good news on this for farmers then,” Minette added.
“With farm input costs through the roof and interest rates soaring, this leaves farmers in a perilous place.”
NFU President Minette Batters
Halt further reductions in farm payments
The problems with SFI do not only affect farmers. The government has legislated for environmental targets through this new scheme, known as “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.
Therefore, we are calling on ministers to halt any further reduction in existing farm payments – due to fall by £720 million this year alone – until delivery problems with SFI are solved.
“All we’re asking for is government to bridge the gap it has created by taking away one set of payments, but not delivering access to their replacements on time,” said Minette.
Ministers had previously 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. It takes some months between a farmer being accepted on to the scheme and payment being made.
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.
Payments farmers were relying on will now not come this year and will come to only a handful of farmers in the early part of 2024.
Situation needs resolving quickly
The false start for SFI 2023 comes following an extension to Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier applications, which was granted until 15 September 2023, due to technical issues.
NFU Vice President David Exwood said: “Paying farmers this year was one of the government’s own key tests for delivery of the scheme.
“With the scale of the roll out of SFI 23 still unclear and with many farmers still not sure what they need to do to apply, the current situation needs to be resolved quickly.
“Government needs to pause BPS reductions until it can fairly deliver their replacements, otherwise it is farming businesses and farming families which are left bearing the cost.”