Ten facts about the uptake of Countryside Stewardship and SFI 2023

Friday, 3 May 2024

Defra has today (3 May) released statistics on the uptake of environment schemes in England – dominated by the established Countryside Stewardship (CS) and Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) 2023.

The full data, which relates to the situation as of 1 April 2024, can be found on the Government website and we will be conducting further analysis of it.

Key points and observations

  1. There are 34,900 CS agreements in place and 13,900 for SFI 2023. It is not surprising that CS is the dominant scheme at this time given that it is more established and familiar to the industry. Note that the same business can have both a CS and SFI agreement so long as the same action in the same location isn’t being claimed twice. It is expected that there is an element of crossover between the schemes i.e one business having a blend of both CS and SFI 2023. Against SFI 2022 agreements there are more than four times the number of agreements in the 2023 scheme which is clearly strong growth.
  2. Devon and East Anglia dominate the number of SFI 2023 agreements with 1,200 in each. Devon also dominates the number of CS agreements with 4,300 – likely a function of the high density of smaller farms in the county.
  3. In CS there is 14.9K ha of nectar flower mix with an equivalent of 11.6K ha in SFI 2023.
  4. The much-discussed AB15 in CS (two-year legume fallow) totals 66.2K ha with the SFI 2023 equivalent (NUM3) at 50.7K ha. So, in total this is almost 120K ha in this type of agreement, which is equivalent to the area of some of the smaller area crops in the arable rotation. There is much debate about these options displacing cash crop production and implications for output. It is important to note though that these options should be considered as rotational and not permanent land use change. In addition, the agronomic impacts of these options for following cash crops must be considered and there is a need for better understanding/quantification.
  5. In CS and SFI 2023, there is a total of over 120,000 km of hedgerow entered the respective hedgerow management options. This number alone demonstrates just how integrated hedgerows are in the farming landscape and their importance to the industry’s environmental delivery. In CS, this is the most popular option and one of the most significant in SFI 2023.
  6. Second only to having a SFI management plan, soil management (SAM1) is a huge part of the SFI 2023, with 1.6m ha in this option. This is equivalent to the typical area of wheat grown in England.
  7. 9,100 or 65% of the SFI 2023 agreements have made use of the nutrient management plan (NUM1) option. Similarly, 8,600 or 62% of agreements have accessed the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan option (IPM1).
  8. 430K ha of land has been entered into IPM4 in SFI 2023, which supports the production of arable and permanent crops without the use of insecticides or nematicides.
  9. In CS, 361K ha is entered into GS2 – permanent grass with very low inputs – outside of an SDA. The SFI 2023 equivalent (LIG1) has 101K ha.
  10. In CS there are 85K ha under GS4, which supports legume and herb-rich swards. Despite having fewer agreements than CS, the SFI 2023 equivalent option (NUM2) has 98.2K ha.

Brief overview

There can be no doubt that the uptake of CS and SFI are significant in terms of the number of farm businesses taking part and the amount of farmland participating.

There will be some debate about whether uptake is sufficient or not, given that the reductions in direct payments allow for the creation of the ‘new’ SFI approach.

Further analysis has now been published.

Further information

Sustainable Farming Incentive

Countryside Stewardship

Stacking options for SFI

Background to the Sustainable Farming Incentive