The decision to limit the impact of land being taken out of food production under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) could be followed by “further changes” in farming policies.

This is according to the head of farm business at rural property consultancy GSC Grays, Robert Sullivan.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced yesterday (Monday, March 25) that new SFI applicants will only be able to put 25% of their land into six actions that take it out of food production.

The six capped actions are:  

  • Flower-rich grass margins;
  • Pollen and nectar flower mix;
  • Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land;
  • Grassy field corners and blocks;
  • Improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management;
  • Winter bird food on improved grassland.  

“Some of the unintended consequences of the SFI scheme have been exacerbated by the economic climate and poor weather, as farmers seek to de-risk their businesses,” Sullivan said.

“This variation from Defra could be one of more changes to follow and reaffirms our advice that farmers should take up these schemes while they are available.

“The announcement may be of concern to farmers who have made changes to their farming practices under their SFI agreement for options that may not be available in three years.”

Sullivan said those farmers who have already made significant changes to their farming practices to achieve the outcomes of the scheme now have the opportunity to utilise the options they have entered into to ensure their land is in better condition to come back into agricultural production at the end of the three year agreement.