The National Sheep Association (NSA) has expressed concern over the details of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) released by Environment Minister George Eustice yesterday (Thursday, December 2).

According to the association, there are still unanswered questions.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive said:

“There are still some questions and clarity sought, such as capital payment details still not being clear for some grasslands, beyond soil standards, which have been included in the SFI Pilot, also for fencing, hedge-planting, stonewalling, organic farms and even agroforestry and woodland.

“Also, the statement made no actual mention of progress on the proposed retirement scheme,” he added.

Stocker expressed concern that many farmers will not realise, or not like, the fact that the money is in return for “doing specific things”.

The SFI will reward farmers for actions they take to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way, beyond mandatory regulations.

“Others will say what is being offered is not ambitious enough,” he said.

In his opinion, the SFI should match what farmers were receiving through the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS) as part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as it is the government’s post-Brexit alternative.

We also have to realise that while the SFI offer is relatively small, the aim is for future scheme development to keep pace with the percentage reductions in BPS – this isn’t to say ELMS [Environmental Land Management] is a replacement for BPS, but it should be offering the opportunity for farmers to replace much of that income if they choose to.”

Stocker acknowledged that getting this far however has been “hard work”.

“It is worth considering the positive progress,” he said.

“We have a seven-year transition period and no cliff edge, which is exactly what most farmers wanted, we have the first ‘tier of ELMS’ as a sustainable farming incentive – a scheme for farming practices, and we have a scheme that gives the flexibility to enter at a field level, giving flexibility for the farmer to do what is right for them.”