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ELM schemes: further details released

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Preliminary details on the pilot schemes for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) were released on 10 March along with confirmation that qualifying farmers will be able to apply to take place in the pilot trials from later that month. The Sustainable Farming Incentive is the first part of the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which will ultimately replace the existing Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidy, now being phased out.

It’s intended that most farmers will be able to enter the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme. Roll-out will begin in 2022 and initially all existing BPS claimants will be able to enter. In the meantime, those wishing to enter the pilot scheme (broadly, BPS claimants who have land in England which is not in existing agri-environment schemes) will be able to volunteer from the end of March with agreements commencing in October.

Interestingly, the paper gives details of the payments which can be claimed under the pilot scheme in addition to an undisclosed ‘participation’ fee. Whilst it’s stressed that the pilot payments won’t be the same as the payments in the ‘live’ scheme, and ‘updated payment rates for the launch of the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme for 2022 are currently being developed’, it does give some idea of their possible magnitude.

Initially, the standards which make up the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme include separate criteria for horticultural and arable land and soils, similar standards for improved and low input grassland, and standards for hedgerows, woodland and waterbody buffering. Although Sustainable Farming Incentive payments can’t be claimed for land which is already receiving existing agri-environment payments, support can be claimed under different standards for the same parcel.

So, for example, a field with hedges and a watercourse could be eligible under the hedgerow standard, watercourse standard and both the land and soil standards. Each standard has three different achievement levels, each with its own payment rate. Further standards are likely to be added to the package in due course. It would appear that during the phasing out period, both BPS and SFI could be claimed on the same land.

To take an example, a 10ha field with 1,500m of hedgerows and 550m of buffer strips claiming at the highest rate for the four relevant packages might receive about £1,900 made up from land and soil standards of £74 and £59/ha and hedgerow and water payments of £24 and £34 per 100m. By comparison, under the BPS rates, and subject to satisfactory greening, the same field might have received a subsidy of about £2,300.

Clearly, it won’t be possible to determine the exact financial impact until actual Sustainable Farming Incentive rates (rather than pilot rates) have been determined, but in the meantime, those who wish to participate in the pilot schemes need to express an interest.

If you’d like to know more about the Sustainable Farming Incentive, you can access the full 25-page document here.

It would have been great to see some more concrete payment data, but this paper makes interesting reading. We know that BPS payments are on the way out, and farmers will now be able to see exactly how they will need to make their operations greener in future to qualify for the optimal Sustainable Farming Incentive income.

Need help?

If you’d like any further information on the Sustainable Farming Incentive, please speak with a member of our agriculture team. You can find contact details on the Our People section of the Larking Gowen website. Alternatively, call 0330 024 0888 or email

Steve Rudd


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Larking Gowen


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