Delays expected to Sustainable Farming Incentive

By Andrew Heskin, Partner and ARA specialist

The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced a controlled rollout of the new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which is expected to cause further delays in the application process for most farmers in England.

The SFI was initially scheduled to open on 18t September 2023. However, the Rural Payments Agency is taking additional time to rectify any errors in the application process, meaning it could take several weeks before many farmers can apply.

During a recent Funding for Farmers webinar, a senior civil servant involved with the scheme explained that the rollout would commence with a small group of individuals who have been invited to begin the application process and provide feedback on any issues encountered. These initial applicants have been chosen from a list of farmers who previously expressed their interest in the SFI scheme with the Rural Payments Agency.

As the agency gains confidence in the system and resolves identified issues, a larger group will be invited to start the application process. The goal is to ensure a smooth application process by the time the scheme is opened to all farmers. The timeline for the completion of this controlled rollout is uncertain, with estimates ranging from a few weeks to possibly longer.

The anticipated delays mean that many farmers in England will not be able to join the scheme until much later in the year. Furthermore, the first SFI 2023 payments, which are expected to be disbursed four months after the agreement start date, will not reach successful applicants’ bank accounts until well into 2024.

This delay has frustrated producer organisations, including the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA). The TFA has urged for the reversal of this year’s Basic Payment Scheme cuts and called for a halt to any further planned reductions.

We understand the financial implications this delay could have on farmers. We recommend looking out for updates from DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency to ensure you are prepared to apply once the scheme is fully operational.

In the meantime, if you have any other concerns over this, please contact our expert team of accountants today.