The National Farmers Union (NFU) uplands forum is calling for significant development of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) to make it more practical and attractive to uplands farmers, as the current offer fails to offer a meaningful return for the costs of managing upland landscapes.

In a meeting with Farming Minister Victoria Prentis, the forum highlighted the need for Defra to support uplands farmers in a smooth transition to the new schemes and stressed the important value of the sector to the country; forming the backbone of rural communities, using land otherwise unsuitable for food production to produce quality, sustainable meat and dairy, and managing the landscape so it can be enjoyed by all.

The forum stressed concerns that as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) makes up such a large proportion of upland incomes, the planned reductions in BPS and the absence of a meaningful SFI option – which does not offer an alternative viable income stream for many due to lack of measures, information and sufficient payment rates – the uplands sector will face an income crisis.

NFU uplands forum chairman Thomas Binns said: “We all know that upland farmers stand to be heavily impacted by the changes in domestic agricultural policy.

"As BPS payments start to be phased out and many of us nervously await more information about the new schemes, I stressed to the Farming Minister the importance of a long-term vision for the future of the uplands sector.

“This would instil confidence that the government recognises the sector’s value in all it delivers for the public, and that we are working towards a collective goal of sustainable food production and environmental enhancement.

"It is vital that the sector’s value is reflected in the SFI scheme by delivering meaningful benefits to both farmers and the environment.”

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “This meeting with the Farming Minister was absolutely crucial and it is encouraging to see that she is listening to our concerns.

“The success of ELMs depends on all farmers being able to take part and be properly rewarded and it’s vital the government takes our recommendations on board to develop an SFI scheme where uplands farmers are confident in its viability.

“We will continue to work with Defra to ensure the scheme offers real value for money for both the public goods delivered and the farmers that deliver them.”