At the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday, the new Defra Secretary of State Steve Barclay announced, “the biggest upgrade to farming schemes since the start of the agricultural transition.” We are still looking through the detail, but some key points are below:
- Payment rates to increase by an average of 10% for the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship schemes. This applies to existing and new agreements.
- This includes a significant increase for managing priority habitat species rich grassland – from £186/ha up to £646/ha (applies to GS6, GS7 and GS8 Stewardship options).
- Around 50 new actions will be added to the Environmental Land Management schemes from summer 2024. These include new SFI actions for Moorland and Agro-Forestry and an SFI payment for maintaining drystone walls of £27 per 100m.
- Rolling application window starting in Summer 2024 with a single application process for Mid-Tier and the Sustainable Farming Incentive.
We don’t believe that the payment increases apply to older Higher Level Stewardship agreements. Farmers in HLS extensions need to consider whether and how they might apply for new agreements when applications for Stewardship and SFI open this summer. In the meantime, check whether you can apply for any of the existing SFI options and speak to your Natural England adviser about what you need to do to prepare for a Higher Tier application – e.g. whether a feasibility study may be required.