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The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has launched the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive which invites application from UK farmers for sustainable agriculture technology. Reuters

As 2030 draws nearer, net zero-target sustainability efforts are taking centre stage in the UK. The latest addition to this is the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), which seeks to boost sustainable agriculture in the country.

Over the long weekend, the UK government opened the new SFI to the public, asking for applications starting from September 18. This comes at a time when the government allocated £14 million for the development of innovative farming solutions in the country.

Sustainable Farming Incentive to support innovation in farming

On August 26, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced the launch of the SFI. Defra stated that from August 30, farmers can register their interest in the scheme announced by the Rural Payments Agency, and are subsequently invited to sign up for the SFI from September 18.

The UK government has made it clear that the pre-registration and the dates provided are meant to give the farmers the necessary time to gather all the information needed for applying to the Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme. Farmers need to assemble information such as land use and, the location of the land on online maps like Google Maps and other such details before the application process starts on September 18.

By utilising the SFI, the UK government will support the farmers of the UK to take action towards sustainable agriculture which will make Britain self-sufficient. The aim is to enhance the resilience of the agriculture and food sector by increasing farming productivity in a way that supports sustainable food production.

The new improved SFI seeks to support 23 sustainable agriculture initiatives including those promoting better soil health, hedgerows and moorland. Along with these, the SFI scheme is also prioritising initiatives that integrate and enhance the pest management system for farmland wildlife. The UK government is also encouraging low-input grassland and buffer strips through the 2023 SFI scheme.

Recent AI-enabled farm wildlife monitoring studies in the country have revealed the potential of such innovative technologies in boosting the productivity of sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable Farming Incentive to provide equal opportunities to UK farmers

Speaking about the 2023 Sustainable Farming Incentive, Food and Farming Secretary, Thérèse Coffey said that the scheme is an important step towards sustainable agriculture. This program is crucial for the production and profitability in sustainability, Coffey added.

Through this program every eligible farmer gets an equal opportunity to join SFI and benefit from it, Coffey said.

The Farming Secretary revealed that the UK government already published details of the 2023 SFI in a handbook released earlier this year, in June. Farmers in the UK have been asked to go through the plan and equip themselves for the autumn planting. The handbook also gives them a clear idea of what they are applying for.

Under the new SFI scheme farmers in the UK don't have to wait till the first year end of the agreement to get the necessary payments cleared. SFI 2023 will enable the instant quarterly release of funds supporting UK farmers. This is to ensure steady cash flow to the UK farmers when and where they need it, revealed the Farming Secretary.

The UK government has witnessed a steady increase in CS agreements in recent years. In the past three years leading up to 2023, the number of such agreements has doubled. This year the government has received 6,000 applications so far. The number is likely to increase as we are a month away from the extended deadline, said Coffey.

The UK government extended the application deadline for the 2024 Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier Agreements to September 15 based on the requests and feedback received from UK farmers. This is coinciding with the 2023 SFI scheme.

However, farmers in the UK can apply for both as long as they aren't applying to get funds for the same action.

The UK government has set the timeline for the SFI so that farmers can get the time to make technical adjustments and apply for both. Farmers need to ensure that their service is straightforward and works for all customers along with aligning with the closing date of CS.

These are all part of the UK government's £2.4 billion annual farming budget which seeks to support the farmers of the country with flexible and accessible farming schemes that can feed the nation and protect the environment.