The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has said it and its members need honesty from the Department for Environment, Food and and Rural Affairs (Defra) on the delivery of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

The TFA said it held meetings today (Thursday, September 7) with Farming Minister Mark Spencer and the chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency (RPS), Paul Caldwell.

In the meetings, the association for UK tenant farmers said it called for urgent measures to either significantly improve the opportunity for farmers to get involved with the SFI or deliver other measures which recognise the “severe cash flow crisis” affecting farm businesses across England.

The TFA said it has scheduled a further meeting with Spencer on September 14 to review progress.

The association’s call echoes that of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which recently urged Defra to “bridge the gap” it has created by taking away one set of payments, but not delivering access to their replacements on time.

TFA chief executive, George Dunn, said “We are encountering huge frustrations amongst TFA members over the lack of progress in rolling out the new schemes in Defra’s Agricultural Transition Plan (ATP) that will replace the 50% of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) payments set to be lost by the end of next year.

“For farm businesses already being hit by the impact of significant inflation in inputs and a downturn in market returns, lack of progress in the delivery of the ATP means robust business planning for the medium to long term has become virtually impossible.

“Additionally, Defra’s ability to meet its own environmental targets will also be negatively impacted.”

New payment schemes

Dunn said it is “hugely disappointing” that the department is unable to respond to the farming community’s appetite for new payments schemes.

“The announcement from Defra on Saturday (August 26) that expressions of interest for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023 can now be lodged with claims active from September 18 is better news, but it leaves some key questions,” he said.

“With the Countryside Stewardship application window already extended, we need assurances that there will be sufficient capacity within the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to deal with both strands of work alongside its business-as-usual workload.

“Defra and the RPA must now move at pace to provide a straightforward mechanism to allow significant early uptake of SFI. As we have done all along, we will continue to provide robust scrutiny and challenge to Defra and the RPA to ensure they deliver.

“However, we need honesty now. If the pace of necessary implementation cannot be assured, this will be massively damaging to the cash flow of many farm businesses throughout the length and breadth of England and reneges on the promises made to the farming community that new public payments for public goods schemes would be put in place as BPS payments fell away. In this situation the inevitable conclusion is that, until the picture improves, this year’s Basic Payment Scheme reduction should be reversed and further planned reductions put on hold.

Dunn said farmers need a clear view of the way ahead, beyond the next election, setting out a forward plan for the ATP on a scheme-by-scheme basis.

“SFI will not be appropriate for all farm businesses and therefore we need to ensure that all the elements of the ATP are taken forward to achieve maximum benefit for individual farm businesses and for the delivery of public benefits,” he said.