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How well is the Sustainable Farming Incentive going in Devon?

  • by JW

The SFI payment is supposed to reward farmers for looking after the health of their soil, but very few have received any payment.

“Farming in Devon is a mess.”


Last September the government introduced the “first of its three new environmental schemes being introduced under the Agricultural Transition Plan: Sustainable Farming Incentive: full guidance – GOV.UK

And this week more has been brought in, with the farming industry generally supportive, as it “provides much-needed clarity for farmers planning their businesses”: Defra adds six new standards to SFI scheme for 2023 – Farmers Weekly

Plus, the environmental lobby have also welcomed having more details about the scheme: Farming announcement today a welcome step in the right direction | Devon Wildlife Trust

Nevertheless, there are misgivings, as reported earlier in the month by the Guardian:

Exclusive: Leaked figures show tiny fraction of England’s farms received payment under sustainable farming incentive

Just 224 farmers in England were paid under the government’s flagship post-Brexit nature-friendly agriculture scheme last year. Leaked figures show that a tiny fraction of farms received payment under the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), part of the plan to replace EU farming subsidies.

The SFI payment is supposed to reward farmers for looking after the health of their soil. Replacing EU subsidies – which are awarded based on the amount of land farmed and thus heavily weighted towards the biggest landlords, who least need subsidy – with payments for protecting nature was the government’s flagship Brexit farming policy, unveiled in 2018.

Under the incoming system of environmental land management (Elms), farmers were supposed to be rewarded with “public money for public goods”, by taking measures such as digging ponds, laying hedges and improving habitat for wildlife. But critics say the tiny number of payments made shows the lack of confidence in the schemes.

Just 224 farmers were paid under post-Brexit farming scheme last year | Farming | The Guardian

Turning to Devon, there have been successful trials: Transcript: Sustainable Farming Incentive North Devon – Future Farming

And one MP is very hopeful: Increasing support for farmers working to create great British food – Selaine Saxby


However, this optimism is not universal. Local democracy reporter Rob Kershaw reports today on the fears and disappointments of smaller farmers:

“Risk of over-commercialisation”

Farming in Devon is in danger of being over-commercialised after the introduction of a series of government schemes that reward farmers for looking after the environment. This is the view of North Devon Cllr Jeremy Yabsley, who says some farmers are not gaining anything from the programmes.

When the UK was in the European Union, many farmers were paid subsidies based on the amount of land they owned. Now the government is planning a scheme called the sustainable farming incentive (SFI), through which farmers are rewarded for managing livestock and land in an environmentally friendly way. Cllr Yabsley says larger farming businesses will benefit most because they have the space and the resources. However, he believes farmers with less capacity will struggle to meet the demands of the programme and will therefore get few dividends from it. “I can see farming even in Devon just going down the commercial route, and sucking up everything else. And in fact we’ve gone backwards to be honest, except for those few smaller units who are focusing on nature recovery.”

Cllr Robert Hicks (Independent, Monkleigh and Putford) feels it might not have the desired effect, as farmers cannot afford the time to focus on such environmental schemes… Cllr Hicks also described farming in Devon as “a mess,” and that the current climate is going to “drive people out” of the sector.

Devon councillor against farming scheme – Radio Exe and Warning farming in North Devon is ‘going backwards’ without EU subsidies

Finally, these same concerns were being voiced at last year’s Devon County Show: Cost of living crisis: Farming industry struggling with rising costs – BBC News