LIVE - DEFRA SFI Janet Hughes “ask me anything” 19:00-20:00 20th September (Today)

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Hello, I’m Janet Hughes. I’m the Programme Director for the Future Farming and Countryside Programme in Defra – the programme that’s phasing out the Common Agricultural Policy and introducing new schemes and services for farmers.

Today (20 September) between 7pm-8pm, I and some of my colleagues will be answering your questions about our work including the Sustainable Farming Incentive, Farming in Protected Landscapes, and our test and trials.

We’ll try to answer at least 15 of your top voted questions, so please vote on the questions you’d most like me to answer.

You can read more about our Future Farming policy on our blog.

I’ve answered some of your questions previously: you can watch the videos on the Farm TV or Defra’s YouTube (part 1 and part 2 of the videos). I’m happy to answer any follow-up questions about that, as well as other questions you might have.


  • We’ll do our best to answer as many questions as we can, in the order in which you’ve voted on them
  • If there are top voted questions we can’t answer immediately for whatever reason, we’ll do our best to come back with answers to them in the next few days
  • If this works for you as a format, we’ll do it again, so let us know what you think!

Looking forward to seeing you at 7pm!
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Hi Janet, thanks for coming on here.
I have a smallish arable farm with plenty of hedges and some woodland. I significant portion of my income comes from the SFP and a CS Arable offer. Do you think the net income from the new schemes will be able match what we currently get? I believe we were promised it would, but from what I've seen so far, it won't even get close.


Is it true that DEFRA have been taken by surprise by the lack of uptake for the SFI pilot scheme, and if so, why do you think uptake has been below expectations?

If you think it has anything to do with payment rates, presumably this will be considered and potentially rectified before the full roll out?

What would be the consequence of a lower than expected uptake of the full SFI scheme? Would funds be redirected towards other areas of agricultural reform, such as the Local Nature Recovery? Would a low uptake be a significant blow to the Government's climate goals?

Lesley Prior

Livestock Farmer
Hello Janet, I've applied for the SFI pilot, higher level Improved Soils. There's a requirement in this, to test soils on all parcels of land on the holding I believe. I've asked through RPA channels but still not had an answer - are you including our parcels of woodland in this? We have 60 acres of Ancient woodland, clearly not farmed, yet in mapped parcels. Are we really expected to do soil analysis on this land? I will not sign the agreement if this is the case as it will cost me all of the money.


Why does DEFRA attach such a low value to buffer strips? Surely wide buffer strips (10meters), around ditches, ponds, rivers, hedges, trees, domestic dwellings, etc, would be a massive benefit to the environment, wildlife, and a big public good, but payment rates have always been pitiful, and so uptake not as high as it could be.


North Somerset.
I have applied for the SFI pilot at the highest payment rate for an all grass farm because the lower payment rates are not worth the hassle .
At what time of year will average grass lengths and the iidentification of grass species per square metre be expected to apply?
I outwinter my cattle. The grass is eaten off and when rotationally grazing the grass does not go to seed so how are grass species to be identified in those circumstances?
Outwintereing means I rarely spread manure from the collecting yard. Will I be expected to soil sample and for what purpose?
In addition to the £5k incentive I have applied to be part of the pilot to find out from the researchers how they think this scheme can be applied to my farm without affecting profitability. It appears to me that the loss of production likely with my simple system if SFI scheme rules are applied will not be compensated by the money on offer even at the highest level.
Good Evening

I have been involved in Stewardship since the very first Arable Pilot Scheme in the mid 90s, and then had two 10yr Countryside Stewardship schemes. My 110ha business nowadays is a very traditional, mixed farming enterprise with a large area devoted to stewardship, and with a huge increase this year with new Bumblebird mix and new herbal leys on half the farm, planted in the past 7-8months.

I declined to accept an invitation to renew my HLS agreement this September, as I remain deeply mistrustful of the monitoring and management of the schemes and the manner in which NE/RPA staff "work" with farmers these days, with the odd exception. I looked at the Mid Tier scheme but while I appreciated the more accessible options on offer, I remained sceptical of the policing, and also the risk of any option suddenly falling foul of NE and being subject to an EIA, and thereby possibly sterilising the land for future farming.

I was asked to consider the SFI Pilot scheme but I felt that it was overly complex and unsuited for my farming business at the time. I went instead for Severn Trent Water STEPS scheme. In my view, a model of how to design and run a simple scheme that is clear and concise and more importantly, targeted at a regional area with on the whole, a specific aim. ie improvements in water quality by a variety of means, in targeted locations. STEPS also has an excellent farmer/Adviser ratio and all the farmers I know, value that close accessibilty from someone on the ground.

SFI options need to reflect the most sensible farming and business mantra, KISS, Keep it Simple, Stupid.

Much discussion has been had here on TFF over the recent months, and it becomes ever more apparent that properly funded buffer strips against water course and other bodies, will offer one of the greatest "public good" options that can be easily achieved on ALL land. 10-12m margins and a decent payment/ha, possibly some tweaking for visual effects, but essentially, reducing further, pesticide residues and fertiliser run-off from farming.

Will SFI offer a simple watercourse buffer option for all, with no add-ons, to reflect this public good and if not, Why not????

Can DEFRA give a categorical assurance that ANY and ALL land put into a future scheme option, that is not rotational, will put it in writing for any SFI Agreement, that this land cannot be subject to a retrospective action from NE and/or any other body, to lock it into non productive state, and that on the cessation of the Agreement, the land can return to Agriculture if wanted by the Applicant.
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From your experience working with government, could you comment on the common theory that ELMS is part of a wider governmental attempt to denigrate, demonetize and demoralise farmers until they vacate the industry, thus allowing more prosperous and electorally important industries to offset their emissions by purchasing the cut-price carbon credits in the newly less-productive countryside?


NFFN Member
By 2028, DEFRA want to see "a renewed agricultural sector, producing healthy food for consumption at home and abroad, where farms can be profitable and economically sustainable without subsidy" (DEFRA "Agricultural Transition Plan", 1.1.1). Nothing announced so far appears to stand any chance of acheiveing this critical aspiration given that the poor profitability of UK agriculture is overwhelmingly a market structure issue. Can Janet and the team explain how they intend to achieve this laudable aim?
Yes - it will be live right here - well be posting replies to the questions between 1900 and 2000 this evening (you don't have to follow live though, you can come back and review the answers whenever you like, but if you're here you can reply and interact as we go :)
Is this a live session and if so how can it be accessed please?


Firstly thank you @JanetHughesDefra for engaging directly, very refreshing approach.

I have an active Mid tier wildlife offer, I've only implemented this on arable land with rotational options as like many, I do not have the confidence that entering into certain options may make land unable to return to productive farmland in perpetuity.

In short the EIA process is harming much environmental good that could be done.

Can you look into the implementation of the EIA because the law on the statue book seems to of been interpreted differently by Natural England, to how it reads in law.
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Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

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Update on the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

Written by Lisa Applin

In July, we opened the applications window for farmers to join our Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive is 1 of the 3 new environmental land management schemes. It sits alongside the future Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery schemes.

Through the Sustainable Farming Incentive, farmers will be paid for environmentally sustainable actions – ones that are simple to do and do not require previous agri-environment scheme experience.

We are piloting the scheme to...