Sustainable Farming Incentive Pilot

Photo by Spencer Pugh on Unsplash

Deadline alert: interest needs to be registered by 11 April 2021

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is designed to fill in the amount of basic payments that are tapering away over the next few years in England. This is one of three new schemes alongside the Local Nature Recovery and the Landscape Recovery schemes which are going to be piloted next year.

The scheme applies to farmers who are already receiving Basic Payment, and is due to be launched in mid 2022. Further information is scheduled to be released later this summer with the full details to enable farmers to get ready. However there is now an opportunity for farmers who are interested in getting involved in the pilot scheme and there is a deadline for applying of 11 April 2021.

This is how it all fits together – taken from the Government announcement:

The initial eight standards to be taken into the pilot are as follows:

  • arable and horticultural land
  • arable and horticultural soils
  • improved grassland
  • improved grassland soils
  • low and no input grassland
  • hedgerow
  • on farm woodland
  • waterbody buffering

With each standard there are three levels for participants to choose from: introductory, intermediate and advanced. These are all allocated specific payment amounts per hectare which I set out in a table below. Formal land management plans are not going to be part of the initial application but participants are going to be asked to prepare them as part of the learning process. To me this seems like a good opportunity for farmers and their advisors to learn more about the land and how to get the most out of it.

It is expected that reporting back may involve, on average, around the farmer to spend 10-15 hours per month to inform government learning on the scheme.

There will of course be some monitoring and some regulation behind the scheme but the impression given that this is going to be light touch and the most appropriate methodology for these will be developed alongside the pilot.


For the first phase, a farmer is only eligible if:

  • they are a recipient of the Basic Payments Scheme
  • the land is in England
  • there is no existing agri-environment agreement on the selected land
  • they must either own the land with management control or have a tenancy of enough length to implement their pilot agreement

It does not apply to land registered as common land or shared grazings

Payment amount

StandardInitial base rates (first phase of pilot only)
Arable and horticultural landfrom £28 up to £74 per hectare
Arable and horticultural soilsfrom £30 up to £59 per hectare
Improved grasslandfrom £27 up to £97 per hectare
Improved grassland soilsfrom £6 up to £8 per hectare
Low and no input grasslandfrom £22 up to £110 per hectare
Hedgerowfrom £16 up to £24 per 100 metres
On farm woodland£49 per hectare
Waterbody bufferingfrom £16 up to £34 per 100 metres

In some cases some further payments available, so it is worth looking up the documentation.

Timescale and first deadline

By 11 April 2021: Submit an expression of interest here

June 2021: selected farmers invited to submit an application

Summer 2021: agreements processed

October 2021: first agreements go live

November 2021: first monthly payments issued

Submit an expression of interest by midnight on 11 April 2021 if you want to join the pilot of the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme.

To accountants

To the accountants among my readers I would say this: the government is stating that the Sustainable Farming Initiative should be easy enough for most farmers to be able to engage with without taking professional advice, and therefore I think this is an initiative that accountants should take on as part of their annual service to their clients. We don’t need to be experts in agronomy to be able to point out what is available on the official website. However, being close to the numbers enables us to weigh up the published figures on this guidance against current basic payments and historic farm performance.