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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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.

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?

snarling bee

Arable Farmer
I have a nationally important grassland/marsh SSSI on my farm. At the moment with Mid Tier I am struggling to claim much money for an area of ground I am unable to do much with, in fact it costs me money. I notice I would also be unable to enter the arable offer, if I was not in stewardship already. What is going to be available for SSSIs, and other high wildlife value sites, within the SFI that will be easy to claim and implement? At the moment I am very disillusioned with all the Environmental schemes on offer and proposed. It would be a shame if this SSSI was to loose its value if I was not incentivised to manage it well.


Given that permanent pasture achieves all of main aims of ELMS, ( biodiversity, carbon sequestration, public goods, and food production) do you think a much higher valuation for payments than you have suggested so far would attract more land managers to retain permanent pasture, and therefore help the environment at least cost for everyone


East yorks
Couple of questions for me.

Why are there stipulations that to get to higher levels you must carry certain options such as ditch management. This penalises those with lots of ditches which can lead to large yield loss of more than the payment if not maintained over those in areas with free draining soils with no ditches

Are the agreements single year or multi year? If they are multi year can a line be drawn at the end of each year so there isn’t a penalised claw back for a none farmer caused mistake.


The North East
You know, I've got to ask, why?
Why should I as a farmer bother?

There's scant prospect of turning a profit farming and it's looking like a long decline in the value of agricultural land in real terms.
Why should anyone bother with that? Especially when you consider that your proposed policies are best characterised by their lack of investment in the sector?

Grass And Grain

Mixed Farmer
Vegetable growers don't direct drill, but instead plough their land and intensively cultivate.

By incentivising direct drilling, are you disincentivising vegetable growing and production of our 5-a-day?

Direct drillers tend to favour rotationally grown spring crops such as malting barley (grass weed control). Is the SFI going to unintentionally incentivise alcohol production and the production of CO2 as a product of the fermentation process?
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Still Farming

Mixed Farmer
Glamorgan Wales
Would we better off sticking with food production, rather than trying to be wildlife champions, whilst importing food from countries with questionable practices such as leveling rain forests to produce crops/ meat that could be produced in the UK ?
And allegedly using pesticides we banned here off the approved lists decades ago?
Hello - thanks for your question :)

We're not planning for Red Tractor or any other assurance scheme to police environmental schemes on our behalf.

However, we are looking at possibly having some kind of earned recognition scheme for assurance schemes like Red Tractor, LEAF and organic certification so that people in those schemes can be recognised within government schemes.

What do you think? Does that seem like a good idea to you?
Can Janet confirm that Red Tractor will not be involved in policing the scheme?


Mixed Farmer
What does DEFRA see as the strategic direction to the countryside?

The new scheme has no mention on food production and has rates of SFI are less than the cost of the work (see:£49 to manage a hectare of woodland! Or £4/m of fence), so doesn't appear to value the environmental work either. This is especially true when the costs of administration of the new scheme are added in.

Edit - this has been partly answered already. Apparently they see the new scheme as 'investing' in the environment! How is it 'investing' when the money you put in is less than the cost of the materials, let alone the labour?

Follow up Q - I presume DEFRA is aware that a huge tranche of landowners are going to said no thanks and go their own way?
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Is subsidised food production no longer to be considered a “public benefit?”
Food production is hugely important for the public. But we don't think subsidies are the right way forward because they stifle productivity growth, are unfair, drive up land and rent prices and don't produce much public benefit.

That's why we are going to spend the money instead on (a) supporting productivity in the sector and (b) investing in environmental, climate and animal health and welfare outcomes. The government has committed to maintain the same level of spending on agriculture but through these schemes instead of subsidies.

Also, we think food production and these outcomes can and should go hand in hand - it's not about choosing one or the other.
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