SFI and CS – your top 10 questions answered

Environment and climate
Claire Robinson

Claire Robinson

Senior Countryside Adviser

Wildflowers in a field

Photograph: Hedgelink Online gallery

The NFU’s Senior Countryside adviser Claire Robinson answers your questions on the Oxford Farming Conference announcement, the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) and CS (Countryside Stewardship) schemes.

1. When can I apply for the new SFI offer?

The expectation is that the expanded SFI offer announced at the Oxford Farming Conference will be available to apply for this summer for agreements to start this autumn. The NFU is asking for more clarity on the timelines. Remember, the current offer is available now to apply for.

2. When will the detailed requirements for each of the new and refreshed SFI/CS actions be available? 

There is no timeline for the provision of this additional information. There is a lot of detail required on each of the actions to allow farmers to make informed business decisions and the NFU is pressing for this to be available as soon as possible.

3. Fifty CS options have been revised. What types of changes can we expect to the options? 

Defra has reviewed CS options to check its delivery of environmental outcomes and make them more flexible.

Defra has looked at option eligibility requirements and how they can reduce detailed prescriptions, without losing impact. Defra has also reviewed whether options need to be endorsed and how that might be done.

4. When can new entrants apply for SFI?

Defra announced that the SFI eligibility requirement to be eligible for BPS in 2022 or 2023 will be dropped this year. The NFU expects this to happen when the extended offer is released this summer.

5. Combined SFI/CS application – what does this mean?

The announcement at the Oxford Farming Conference set out plans for a combined SFI/CS application.

From this summer, it should be possible to apply for SFI and CS Mid Tier actions through a single online application process.

You’ll be able to select the best options for your farm from the combined offer. This means both schemes will have a rolling application window and start dates. For both schemes, it should be possible to add additional actions or land on the anniversary of the agreement.

6. Will the CS Higher Tier application process change? 

In line with CS Mid Tier, CS Higher Tier will move to a rolling application window, with rolling start dates.

This change will allow Defra’s technical advisors to focus on bespoke environmental support. The full process needs to be developed.

Our expectation is that the first applications will start this summer. The NFU has highlighted that there should be no gaps between agreements as a consequence of the change.

7. Will capital items be part of the combined SFI/CS offer? 

Yes, capital items are available and will be part of the combined SFI/CS offer and there is a rolling application window.

This will continue as the combined SFI/CS offer is rolled out. New capital items will be introduced in 2024 to match the extended CS/SFI offer. Further detail is needed on these.

8. I'm already in a CS agreement. Can I access the new SFI/CS offer?

You will still be able to access the SFI if you're in an agri-environment scheme. Areas that are not in agreement, or don’t have options placed on them, can go in SFI.

In some cases, it’s possible to stack SFI actions over existing option areas.

9. Can I transfer from another scheme to the SFI?

To access the new and refreshed SFI/CS actions Defra is advising farmers to apply for a new agreement to run alongside their existing CS/HLS agreement.

The NFU has asked Defra to put in a clear process for transferring across, so farmers don’t need multiple agreements.

10. I’m already in SFI, can I amend my agreement to include the new actions? 

At the annual anniversary of your agreement, you will be able to add actions or land to your agreement. If you want to access the new SFI/CS actions before your agreement anniversary, you can apply for a new agreement. You can have multiple SFI agreements.

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