SFI – scheme guidance and information

Environment and climate
A hedgerow along a field

Our experts have analysed Defra's guidance for the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive). Applications for the SFI 2023 are now open. Find out what you need to do.

Latest news

By the end of November, Defra has said it received 3,000 SFI applications with nearly 2,150 offers issued. There were 1,700 live agreements, with 800 having started by 1 November. Most farmers can apply directly online without submitting an expression of interest. There is no cap on the amount you can apply for. 

The first farmers to sign up to the SFI have started to receive their early payments, worth 25% of the annual value of their agreement. Agreements starting from 1 January will need to wait until the fourth month to receive their first quarterly payment. 

Read the story in full at: NFU calls for SFI application improvements as early payments issued.

The NFU is waiting for announcements on new SFI content for 2024. This is expected in the early part of January.

The NFU’s Senior Countryside adviser Claire Robinson has also answered your top questions on how SFI 2023 will work. Read: SFI 2023 – your top 10 questions answered.

Key resources

What has changed?

The SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive) offer for 2023 has been launched. From 20 October 2023 the majority of farmers will be able to apply directly online. Those farming on commons should continue to express their interest with the RPA who can support them to get ready to apply.

Those that secure agreements in 2023 will receive an advanced payment in the first month of their agreement.

Timeline for applications

Defra has announced that farmers will be able to start applying for the SFI offer from 18 September 2023. Previously, farmers needed to submit registrations of interest in order to apply. From 20 October 2023, the majority of farmers will be able to apply directly online. 

In June 2023 Defra published the handbook for the SFI. There is additional guidance on how to apply online. This also provides solutions to issues you may experience with the online process.

The Defra handbook for the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme can be found at: GOV.UK | Sustainable Farming Incentive guidance.

Defra has published a video on how to apply online: SFI 2023 - How to apply for an SFI agreement (YouTube). Supporting written guidance is expected shortly.

The SFI offer and payments

You have free choice of which actions you take and how much you include in your SFI agreement. Most actions can be on part of the field. A few, such as soil assessment and testing, are a whole field. Where the action is ‘whole field’, this is the available area of the field after incompatible areas have been removed. 

Below is a summary of the 23 actions you can be paid for under the SFI. In the SFI Handbook, the requirements for each are set out. There is supporting guidance, in the form of ‘how to’ guides.

The actions contribute to:

Additional payments

In addition to being paid for the SFI actions there is a management payment. This is £20/ha for the first 50ha entered into agreement. This is based on option area. There is only one payment per SBI.

For common land (involving 2 or more people) these is an additional payment of £6.15/ha

SFI Animal Health and Welfare Review

Support is available to carry out an animal health and welfare review. This is separate to the SFI agreement for environmental land management described here with its own application process.

You can find out more about the rollout of the review and how to apply at: SFI annual health and welfare review

Capital items

Capital items are available through Countryside Stewardship. These are available throughout the year. There is no upper limit on how much you can apply for. Land in receipt of capital items does not block access to SFI.

To find out more about capital items and Countryside Stewardship, visit our guidance at: Information on Countryside Stewardship 2023/23

Future actions

The SFI offer will be added to over the next year. Defra has indicated it is exploring new actions to add in 2024. These include dry stone walls, agro-forestry, more moorland activities, precision farming and tillage practices.

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Actions and payment rates

Soil actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Test soil organic matter and produce a soil management plan £5.80/ha + £95 per agreement
Multi-species winter cover crops (arable) £129/ha
Herbal leys (grassland) £382/ha

Moorland actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Assess moorland and produce a plan £10.30/ha + £265 per agreement

Hedgerow actions

SFI Action 
Payment rate
Access and record hedgerow condition £3 per 100m – one side
Manage hedgerows so there's a range of heights and widths £10 per 100m – one side
An average of 1 tree per 100m £10 per 100m – both sides

IPM actions

SFI action
Payment rate
IPM (Integrated Pest Management) assessment and produce an IPM plan £989/year
Flower-rich grass areas £673/ha
Companion crop £55/ha
No use of insecticide £45/ha

Nutrient Management actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Nutrient Management assessment and plan £589/year
Legumes (improved grassland) growing during spring and early autumn £102/ha
Legume Fallow (arable) that flowers during late spring and summer £593/ha

Arable and Horticultural Land actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Pollen and nectar flower mix – flowing spring/summer £614/ha
Winter bird food (arable) £732/ha
Grassy field corners and blocks (arable) £590/ha
4m-12m grass buffer strips on arable land £451/ha

Improved Grassland actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Grassy field corners and blocks (grassland) £333/ha
Winter bird food (grassland) £474/ha
4m-12m grassy buffer strips on grassland £235/ha

Low Input Grassland actions

SFI action
Payment rate
Very low nutrient inputs £151/ha

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As a farmer, you need to be eligible for BPS in either May 2022 or May 2023. This will change in future years. For common land, one of the people eligible to use the common must have been eligible for BPS in May 2023 or 2023.

Then there are eligibility requirements for the SFI actions. Broadly, these require the land to be recorded on Rural Payments with the appropriate cover. For example, for SFI arable actions, the field needs to have arable crops recorded. In addition, you need to have management control to be able to deliver the required actions.


Tenants can apply for SFI without seeking their landlord’s consent (subject to the terms of their tenancy agreement). The tenant needs to be confident that they will have management control for the three-year term of the SFI agreement.

Tenants on short-term rolling tenancy agreements can enter SFI, provided they expect to have management control for three years. Defra has a more lenient penalty regime which means if land has to be removed in year two, due to issues outside of your control, it will not lead to penalties. At most, you may need to repay monies received for the year in question.

Common land and shared grazing

Areas of common land or shared grazing will have their own agreement. The common will need to have its own SBI and meet the basic eligibility requirements. In addition, it will need to be set up as a single entity which has legal arrangements in place to manage the agreement, and have its own bank account.

There is a payment of £6.15/ha where the common involves two or more people.

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Agreement management

These are three-year agreements, managed online through the Rural Payments service, and there is a rolling application window. Agreements will start on 1st of the month. RPA support will be available for applicants who are not online.

Payments will be made quarterly, starting in the fourth month after your agreement starts. This will be for a quarter of the annual value of the agreement. For agreements starting on 1 October 2023, 1 November 2023 and 1 December 2023 they will receive their first payment in the first month of their agreement. 

See: Defra promises ‘accelerated payment’ for SFI agreements

You will be required to complete an annual declaration confirming that you have completed the actions. This declaration will be needed to release the final quarterly payment for the year.

Each year it will be possible to increase your delivery by adding land or actions. These will apply from the anniversary of your agreement, for the remainder of your three-year term. Removal of land or actions will not normally be allowed.

It is not possible to transfer the agreement to another person. If you do need to end your agreement on an area of ground Defra may ask for repayments. There will be no penalties applied to the remainder of the agreement.

Crop rotations

Within SFI some actions can be rotated. SFI does provide flexibility to vary the area claimed for year on year.

In the second and third years of your agreement you can enter a larger area than you entered into agreement for. Alternatively you can decrease the area claimed, as long as it is at least 50% of the first year area. So, if your agreement has 10ha in year one for a rotational action, in year two that area could be 5ha and in year three it could be increased to 11ha.

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Monitoring and compliance

Each SFI action has its own record keeping requirements. For example, you will need to create and maintain a soil management plan for the first of the soils actions as well as keeping your soil test results.

Defra says it wants to use different methods to assess agreement delivery, including remote sensing. The scheme moves away from inspectors to field officers. If they find something is not as it should be they have a role of being more supportive and advising how to improve delivery. Defra will not withhold payments on suspicion of any breach.

Where a breech is found, Defra can seek repayments. However, in most cases, Defra will only apply a reclaim to the area of the breach and it could be a one-year repayment, rather than multiple years.

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Cross compliance, SSSIs and other regulations

SFI is not subject to cross compliance. As cross compliance mostly encapsulates existing regulations, you will still need to meet and consider when delivering SFI actions. For example, SFI buffer strips will need to start 2m from a watercourse or centre of the hedge.

It is your responsibility to make sure the relevant consents are in place. Therefore, if you have land you wish to include with an SSSI or a scheduled monument, you need to have consents from Natural England or Historic England respectively.

Some SFI actions cannot be carried out on land containing a SSSI, historic or archaeological features. An SFI HEFER (Historic Environment Farmed Environment Record) will be required for land to be included where there are historic or archaeological features. This is available online through a HEFER portal.

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Compatibility with other schemes

You can have different schemes on the same parcel of land provided you are not being paid for the same action twice (known as double funding). Land in receipt of BPS payments can be included in SFI.

The scheme rules set out which SFI action is compatible with Countryside Stewardship or Environmental Stewardship options and SFI pilot standards, allowing them to be co-located. The Rural Payments service application system will calculate the available area in each for SFI action, removing areas with incompatible options or actions.

Land attracting private finance, such as carbon or natural flood management payments, can be entered into SFI. Defra will keep this under review.

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SFI22 agreement holders

Defra has promised a smooth transition into the new offer. Agreement holders will need to apply for a new agreement to access the full flexibility and range of actions available in the new offer. If you want to access SFI22 early, before the end of the six-month termination period, then you need to register your interest with the RPA.

SFI23 does not include actions for adding organic matter, having 70% of your land with winter cover, or no more than 5% bare ground on grassland. Existing agreements will receive a closure payment recognising the reduced offer.

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This page was first published on 03 January 2023. It was updated on 04 December 2023.

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