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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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?
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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Mixed Farmer
East Sussex
Hi Janet, I’ve seen DEFRA mention numerous times that they want to make this process simple for the farmer to do without the need for any agents leading to additional costs. I’m 24 and have qualifications in IT and computing and I would say I’m computer minded yet struggle to understand endless information which isn’t very clear. How do you expect my 65 year old dad with a basic nokia phone and very little computer knowledge to enroll himself into these new schemes? IMO things need to be made much much clearer and simpler.


North Wilts
One of the major bugbears for farmers is that Defra, NE and the RPA are judge, jury and executioner for all the schemes they administer. Short of extremely expensive and stressful court action there is no way a farmer who falls foul of mistakes made by any of those bodies can gain redress. No public employee will ever admit they made a mistake or were wrong, and often it is just the word of the farmer vs the word of the civil servant, and of course Defra always take the latter as gospel. If there was an independent body that could adjudicate between farmers and Defra, that was relatively easy to appeal to, and was binding on both parties, would that not go a long way to rebuild some trust between Defra et al and the farming community, trust that is virtually at rock bottom at the moment?

To be perfectly frank most of us wouldn't believe Defra if they said it was raining without sticking our head out the window to check first.


South west
I understand that DEFRA helps regulate legislation involved with the imports of produce, for our farming industry to operate commercially in one hand and environmentally in the other, which I total surport, what new measure are going to be put in place to guarantee that imports not only meet the same quality as our own produce but are also farmed with the same environmental impacts etc. It's no use as a country becoming more reliant on imports and shifting our responsibility for our planet to countries abroad that we have little control over.


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.

spin cycle

north norfolk
i havn't taken much interest in the process because when i looked my first impression is that it's extremely complicated....weighted towards mitigating intensive farming at the expense of us who are already farming 'more sustainably' and even then the payment rates look poor

given the poor uptake of interest from farmers i think i'm not alone.....what can you do to persuade us otherwise?


North Somerset.
We don't think it's about not producing food and doing wildlife instead - for a lot of farms it will be about producing food in a more sustainable way.
Unless DEFRA understand that ‘sustainable farming’ means profitable farming this whole exercise is a waste of everyone’s time other than those who wish to see the demise of family farms in the UK.


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?


Livestock Farmer
Hi Janet, this whole change in financial assistance for farmers to help improve our environment is obviously going to be very complicated & extremely difficult to get right without causing serious concern for farmers, would it not be much safer to carry the current SFP forward for a few years as everything is already in place but restrict the payments to the first 100 hectares or acres.
ELMS could be applied for above that acreage figure but this would mean that a large section of the farming community would continue as is until Defra iron out all the inevitable teething problems before imposing the finished article on every farmer!
It is obviously the bigger arable farmers that should be encouraged to take part in this first!

Phil P

Arable Farmer
North West
Are these schemes not in danger of just becoming more jobs for the boys?
From the outside it appears that the money allocated to agriculture is just been soaked up more and more by advisors who just advise more advisers and inspectors. As usual by the time it gets to the end of the line (the farmer) there’s only pence left in the pot to pay for these schemes!
At the risk of being rude, I will repeat the essence of my earlier question, which was also asked by others.

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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Top cereal and oilseed growers honoured at the Yield Enhancement Network Awards 2021

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Despite an average growing year for most crops, many growers managed to go above and beyond their predicted max yields, with Lincolnshire grower Tim Lamyman taking the top spots for his wheat yields and his world record breaking winter barley yield.

The highest cereal and oilseed yields achieved at harvest 2021 were announced at this year’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) Awards on Wednesday 24th November at the Croptec Show. With award presentations by Tom Bradshaw, Vice President of NFU, 24 farms took home the evening’s top awards for highest yield and highest potential yield achieved for wheat, winter and spring barley, oats, and oilseed. The 2021 winners came from all corners of the UK, as well as from as far afield as Finland and New Zealand.

Familiar names from 2020 made the...