Northumberland farmers highlight importance of SFI pilot scheme

10 December 2021

Sheep grazing an upland field with historic ruin in the distance

With the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) pilot underway, many members are considering how the emerging scheme may fit with their business and what the barriers are to engagement. To gain a fuller understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing them, Environment and Land Use Adviser, Kate Adams, caught up with Northumberland upland, tenanted farmers, Dave and Annabel Stanners, who have applied to be a part of the pilot.

With direct support payments being phased out, interest in the potential for involvement in the new SFI is high - particularly in Northumberland where direct support for upland farms can make up 80% of Farm Business Income (FBI), the highest of any region in England. 

Whilst ELMS and the SFI are not designed to be a direct replacement for EU support, the NFU is receiving feedback from members that the payments may not be sufficient to allow businesses to remain viable.

Concerns are clear

Speaking to the Stanners family, their concern was clear. Mr Stanners said:

"We like the concept of the SFI and are confident that it can be implemented into our farming business. However, looking at the initial pilot there is only one standard that is applicable to us. And looking at the payment rates, we are concerned about the shortfall that the reduction in direct payments will leave.

"Looking even further forward to the SFI22, we note that again there aren’t many standards that are applicable to our business. We appreciate that more standards will be made available over time, but we really need to get sight of them now so we can plan ahead. We would appreciate seeing more options that would work for upland farms, such as a peatland and moorland standard."

More information needed

Until further details of the scheme are available, Mr and Mrs Stanners are concerned about the shortfall in finances. They have recently diversified their business to include a holiday let, which has been perfect for the boom in summer staycations this year. However, they want farming to remain at the core of their business.

The farm is already well-placed to enter environmental schemes. It is managed to provide a haven for ground-nesting birds such as curlew, peatlands are being maintained to sequester carbon, wildflower meadows are providing support for pollinators, and grazing is being managed to ensure soil and grassland health. They currently receive support under Countryside Stewardship for several of these aspects and are keen for this to continue under ELMS.

Mrs Stanners added:

"We’ve found that it can be difficult to get information from Defra and the RPA, and considering direct payments are gradually being reduced from this year, we would appreciate more information being made available in a timely manner that makes sense to farmers. We want to be in the best place to ensure that our farming business remains profitable and is able to produce food that is enjoyed locally and nationally."



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