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NSA welcomes change to SFI actions but says more could more be done to protect future food production

28th March 2024

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has welcomed the announcement from Defra this week limiting the percentage of farm land that can put into nonproductive actions as part of applications for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “It is a welcome relief that Defra has listened, and acted quickly to make changes that will limit farmers entering large amounts of their land into actions that have a focus away from sustainable farming and food production. NSA is hopeful the changes will ensure the scheme continues to support farmers to continue actual farming, producing food sustainably alongside improving the environment.”

Under the changes, SFI applicants will be able to put no more than 25% of their land into six SFI actions that take land out of direct food production including:

  • Flower-rich grass margins  
  • Pollen and nectar flower mixes
  • 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.  

Mr Stocker continues: “NSA has commended the flexibility of the scheme and the simplicity of the application process but now is the time to tighten up some of the loopholes. NSA would like to see Defra go further and extend the 25% limits to tree planting and rewilding options across the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) on existing farmland. While these actions fall outside of SFI it still feels a reasonable case to make that the best way forward for habitats and food production in Britain is integration. Given that Defra is listening and taking action then NSA asks for action to be taken to prevent what we are seeing now, particularly in upland areas, where many small family farms and tenants are being squeezed out of large private estates and large land holdings owned by utility companies and corporate businesses. Food security is finally being recognised as crucial whereas when these schemes were first thought out it was far less so. NSA would go as far to suggest that it is time to put phase three of Landscape Recovery on hold until we have learnt about the outcomes of the first two rounds.

“There is a real opportunity to make SFI move faster and to become more attractive and rewarding, encouraging more farmers to get involved with environmental protection and enhancement whilst protecting food production. Food production must be at the heart of this scheme going forwards to ensure many small businesses are not lost. Once gone they will be gone forever and their contribution to local economies and communities will be lost.”