Spade with wooden handle digging into soil

The Sustainable Farming Incentive

DEFRA has announced that the Sustainable Farming Incentive is relaunching in August 2023. A new SFI handbook has also been released with guidance for the SFI offer in 2023. 

The 2023 scheme will be very different to the one launched in 2022, with a wider variety of “actions” available that farmers can be paid to undertake. Rather than being grouped together into “standards”, as they were in 2022, actions can be selected individually in a “pick & mix” approach. There are no minimum or maximum areas that can be entered into the scheme. In theory, these changes should make SFI more flexible and will allow farmers to choose the actions that will work best for their business.

There are now 23 actions available covering:

  • Soil health
  • Hedgerows
  • Nutrient management
  • Integrated pest management
  • Moorland assessment
  • Low input grassland
  • Actions for farm wildlife on arable & improved grassland
  • Buffer strips
Hedgerow along the side of a field

What can farmers get paid to do in SFI 2023?

As an example, there are several actions for hedgerows. Hedgerow management (£10 per side per 100 metres) involves cutting, laying or coppicing on rotation to create a range of different heights and widths across the farm’s hedgerow network.

There is a separate action to assess the condition of hedges, which pays £3 per side per 100 metres. For establishing hedgerow trees (one per 100 metres) a payment of £10 per 100 metres is available. Undertaking all three actions on an internal hedge – where you have management control of both sides – will thus attract a payment of £36 for every 100 metres per year.

Annual payments for low input grassland mirror those in Countryside Stewardship, at £151 per ha. Within SFI, however, the actions are more flexible. For example, supplementary feeding is allowed, provided it does not cause poaching.

A full list of all the actions available and the associated payment rates is below. In addition to the actions, there is an annual management payment of £20 per ha for the first 50 ha. This effectively adds up to £1000 to all SFI agreements.

How does SFI work?

As before, SFI agreements will run for 3 years and payments are made quarterly in arrears. This gives greater flexibility for tenant farmers to enter the scheme, as they do not need landlord consent, provided they can reasonably expect to have management control of the land for the 3-year term.

When the scheme re-opens, there will be a “controlled rollout”, which means not everyone will be able to apply at once.

Applications will be made online and the RPA expect to make agreement offers within a few weeks of application, considerably quicker than any other schemes.

In theory, land can be entered into SFI, even if it is already in other schemes. However, you cannot be paid twice for doing the same thing. Many Countryside Stewardship options overlap to some degree with SFI actions, which effectively means that land often cannot be in both schemes. Similarly, hedges already in the CS option BE3 cannot be entered into SFI.

Seedlings showing through soil

What is happening to SFI 2022 agreements?

SFI 2022 has now been closed to new applications. Actions to improve soil health and undertake moorland assessments were available as part of SFI in 2022. The moorland assessment actions and payments will be unchanged for 2023, but this is not the case for soil health.

In SFI 2022, drawing up a soil management plan and carrying out a programme of soil testing paid £28 per ha on improved grassland or £22 per ha on arable land. In 2023, the payment will only be £5.80 per ha (plus £95 per agreement).

With the additional £20 per ha management payment, that means the 2023 payment may be slightly more or slightly less than in 2022. However, for areas in excess of 50 ha, total payments will almost certainly be less than before.

DEFRA has stated that SFI 2022 agreements will all be transitioned to a 2023 agreement. The process for doing this is not yet clear, but DEFRA has said that “you won’t be at any disadvantage because you entered the earlier version of the scheme and we will make the transition as seamless as possible for you.”

Agreement holders need to make sure they undertake all the actions they signed up to, to ensure they receive the payments from their current agreement.

Available Actions in 2023


SFI Action

Annual payment

Actions for soils



Assess soil, test soil organic matter and produce a soil management plan

£5.80/ha and an additional payment of £95 per agreement


Multi-species winter cover crops



Herbal leys


Actions for moorland



Assess moorland and produce a written record

£10.30/ha and an additional payment of £265 per agreement

Actions for hedgerows



Assess and record hedgerow condition

£3 per 100 metres – one side


Manage hedgerows

£10 per 100 metres – one side


Maintain or establish hedgerow trees

£10 per 100 metres – both sides

Actions for integrated pest management


Produce an integrated pest management plan  

£989 per year  


Flower-rich grass margins, blocks or in-field strips



Companion crop on arable and horticultural land



No use of insecticide on arable crops


Actions for nutrient management



Produce a nutrient management plan

£589 per year  


Legumes on improved grassland



Legume fallow


Actions for farmland wildlife on arable and horticultural land



Pollen and nectar flower mix



Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land



Grassy field corners and blocks


Actions for farmland wildlife on improved grassland



Take improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management



Winter bird food on improved grassland


Actions for buffer strips



4m to 12m grass buffer strip on arable and horticultural land



4m to 12m grass buffer strip on improved grassland


Actions for low input grassland



Manage grassland with very low nutrient inputs (outside SDA)



Manage grassland with very low nutrient inputs (SDA)


Additional payments


Additional common land payment (if a group of 2 or more people apply for an SFI agreement on common land)


SFI management payment

£20/ha for up to 50 ha  


As ever, the reality of DEFRA schemes is that they are more complex than is presented. There remains considerable cross-over between SFI and Mid Tier Countryside Stewardship and which way is better to go will depend on each individual farming business. 

For professional advice regarding SFI and other rural grants and schemes, please contact one of our land agency teams: