Navigating the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) is a cornerstone of the UK's agricultural policy, designed to support farmers in adopting sustainable practices that enhance biodiversity, improve soil health, and mitigate climate change. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the intricacies of the SFI scheme, including eligibility criteria, the application process, and the myriad benefits it offers to landowners and farmers.

Understanding the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

The SFI is part of the broader Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, which seeks to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with a more tailored approach that rewards environmental stewardship. The SFI specifically encourages farmers to manage their land in ways that protect and improve the environment while ensuring agricultural productivity.

Key Objectives of the SFI

  1. Enhance Biodiversity: Promote the creation and maintenance of habitats that support diverse plant and animal species.
  2. Improve Soil Health: Encourage practices that enhance soil structure, fertility, and organic matter content.
  3. Water Management: Implement measures that improve water quality and reduce flood risks.
  4. Climate Change Mitigation: Support activities that increase carbon sequestration and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Eligibility Criteria for the SFI Scheme

Before applying for the SFI, it’s crucial to understand the eligibility requirements. The scheme is open to a wide range of farmers and land managers, but certain criteria must be met.

Basic Eligibility Requirements

  1. Land Location: The land must be in England.
  2. Land Registration: Land must be registered on the Rural Payments Agency’s (RPA) digital maps.
  3. Land Type: Eligible land includes arable land, improved permanent grassland, and other areas specified in the SFI guidance.

Specific Eligibility for Woodland Actions

The SFI scheme includes actions specifically designed for woodland creation and maintenance, which involve integrating trees with crops or livestock. Eligibility for these actions depends on the density of tree planting and the type of land:

  • Very Low Density: 30-50 trees per hectare, suitable for less sensitive land.
  • Low Density: 51-130 trees per hectare, also aimed at less sensitive land.

The SFI Application Process

Navigating the application process for the SFI can be straightforward if you follow the outlined steps and gather the necessary documentation.

Step-by-Step Application Guide

  1. Pre-Application Preparation
  • Ensure your land is registered with the RPA.
  • Identify which SFI actions are suitable for your land.
  • Gather relevant maps and documents.
  1. Submitting the Application
  • Log in to the Rural Payments service.
  • Complete the SFI application form, providing details about your land and the actions you wish to undertake.
  • Submit supporting documents, such as land maps and management plans.
  1. Post-Application Process
  • The RPA will review your application and may request additional information.
  • If approved, you will receive a confirmation along with details of the payment schedule.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Incomplete Documentation: Ensure all required documents are submitted to avoid delays.
  • Ineligible Land: Double-check that your land meets the eligibility criteria.
  • Unclear Management Plans: Provide detailed and clear management plans to demonstrate your commitment to the SFI actions.

Benefits of the SFI Scheme

Participating in the SFI scheme offers numerous benefits, both financial and environmental, that can significantly enhance the sustainability and productivity of your farming operations.

Financial Incentives

The SFI provides direct payments to farmers for implementing sustainable practices. These payments vary based on the actions undertaken and the area of land involved.

  1. Annual Payments: Farmers receive annual payments based on the specific SFI actions they commit to. For example:
  • Very Low Density Agroforestry: £248 per hectare per year.
  • Low Density Agroforestry: £385 per hectare per year.
  1. Capital Grants: Additional funding is available for capital items necessary to implement SFI actions, such as fencing, tree guards, and planting equipment.

Environmental Benefits

The environmental benefits of the SFI scheme are substantial and align with broader national and global sustainability goals.

  1. Biodiversity Enhancement: Increased plant and animal diversity through the creation of habitats such as woodlands, hedgerows, and wildflower meadows.
  2. Improved Soil Health: Enhanced soil structure and fertility through practices like cover cropping, reduced tillage, and organic matter addition.
  3. Water Quality and Management: Improved water retention and reduced runoff, leading to better water quality and lower flood risks.
  4. Climate Change Mitigation: Increased carbon sequestration and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through tree planting and sustainable land management practices.

Practical Benefits for Farmers

  1. Resilience to Climate Change: Sustainable practices make farms more resilient to extreme weather events.
  2. Enhanced Productivity: Healthier soils and better water management can lead to higher crop yields and improved livestock health.
  3. Community and Ecosystem Health: Contributing to the overall health of the local ecosystem and community.

Detailed Breakdown of Woodland Actions under the SFI

Understanding the specific woodland-related actions within the SFI scheme is crucial for maximizing its benefits. Here are detailed descriptions of some key woodland actions:

Maintain Very Low Density Agroforestry on Less Sensitive Land

The "Maintain Very Low Density Agroforestry on Less Sensitive Land" action is tailored to establishing a system with 30-50 trees per hectare. This action aims to combine the benefits of tree planting with agricultural production without significantly altering the land's primary use. The trees are strategically spaced to enhance the land's resilience and productivity.


  • Reduced Soil Erosion: The presence of trees helps stabilize the soil, preventing erosion.
  • Improved Water Quality: Trees act as natural filters, improving water quality by reducing runoff and sedimentation.
  • Shelter for Livestock and Crops: The trees provide shade and shelter, which can improve livestock welfare and protect crops from harsh weather conditions.

Financial Incentives:

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Payment: £248 per hectare per year.

By participating in this action, farmers can create a more sustainable and resilient agricultural system while receiving financial support to offset the costs of implementation.

Maintain Low Density Agroforestry on Less Sensitive Land

The "Maintain Low Density Agroforestry on Less Sensitive Land" action involves establishing a system with 51-130 trees per hectare. This action aims to enhance biodiversity and improve land management practices through the integration of trees with agricultural activities.


  • Enhanced Biodiversity: The increased density of trees supports a wider range of plant and animal species, contributing to greater biodiversity.
  • Carbon Storage: Trees sequester carbon, helping to mitigate climate change.
  • Flood Risk Reduction: Trees improve water infiltration and reduce surface runoff, decreasing the risk of flooding.

Financial Incentives:

  • Duration: 3 years.
  • Payment: £385 per hectare per year.

This action is ideal for farmers looking to enhance their land's environmental value while benefiting from financial incentives that make the transition to agroforestry more feasible.

Hedgerow Management

Hedgerows are vital components of the agricultural landscape, providing numerous environmental benefits. The "Hedgerow Management" action focuses on planting and maintaining hedgerows to support wildlife and improve soil health.


  • Habitat Creation: Hedgerows offer habitat for various species, promoting biodiversity.
  • Soil Erosion Control: Hedgerows reduce wind speed across fields, helping to prevent soil erosion.
  • Pollinator Support: Flowering plants within hedgerows provide nectar sources for pollinators, essential for crop production.

Financial Incentives:

  • Duration: Ongoing.
  • Payment: Varies based on length and management practices.

Farmers who implement this action contribute to a healthier ecosystem while also receiving support for maintaining these important landscape features.

Woodland Creation

Creating new woodlands is a powerful way to enhance biodiversity and sequester carbon. The "Woodland Creation" action supports farmers in establishing new woodlands that provide environmental and economic benefits.


  • Biodiversity: New woodlands offer habitat for a wide range of species, enhancing local biodiversity.
  • Air Quality Improvement: Trees filter pollutants from the air, improving air quality.
  • Climate Change Mitigation: Woodlands sequester carbon, helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions.

Financial Incentives:

  • Duration: Ongoing.
  • Payment: Varies based on the area and type of woodland created.

This action is ideal for landowners looking to make a long-term investment in the environmental health of their land.

Woodland Maintenance

Maintaining existing woodlands is just as important as creating new ones. The "Woodland Maintenance" action ensures that established woodlands continue to thrive and provide environmental benefits.


  • Sustainable Wood Production: Properly managed woodlands can produce timber and other forest products sustainably.
  • Wildlife Habitat: Maintenance practices ensure that woodlands remain healthy habitats for wildlife.
  • Ecosystem Services: Well-maintained woodlands contribute to water regulation, carbon storage, and soil health.

Financial Incentives:

  • Duration: Ongoing.
  • Payment: Based on the management practices implemented.

This action supports landowners in keeping their woodlands healthy and productive, providing continued environmental benefits and potential income from sustainable forestry.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How do I know if my land is eligible for the SFI?

Check the eligibility criteria on the RPA’s website and ensure your land is registered and mapped correctly. Eligible land types include arable land, improved permanent grassland, and others specified in the SFI guidance.

2. Can I participate in the SFI if I’m already receiving other agricultural payments?

Yes, but you need to ensure that the SFI actions you undertake are compatible with other schemes. Double-check with the RPA or an agricultural advisor to avoid conflicts.

3. What happens if I cannot fulfill the SFI commitments?

If you are unable to meet your commitments due to unforeseen circumstances, contact the RPA immediately. They may offer flexibility or adjustments to your agreement.

4. Are there any upfront costs involved in joining the SFI?

While there may be initial investments in capital items (like fencing and tree guards), these can often be offset by capital grants provided under the SFI scheme.

5. How do I track and report my progress under the SFI?

Maintain detailed records of all activities, including field operations and management practices. Regularly update your digital maps and submit required documentation to the RPA as requested.


The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) represents a significant opportunity for farmers and landowners to enhance their land's environmental and economic value. By understanding the eligibility criteria, navigating the application process, and fully leveraging the benefits, participants can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient agricultural future. Embrace the SFI scheme to not only boost your farm’s productivity and financial viability but also to play a pivotal role in the stewardship of our natural environment. If you need more guidance, please ask all your questions to Grant, Glafos' AI assistant, free of charge.

Who is Grant?

Grant is Glafos' conversational AI assistant, designed to provide expert advice on woodland creation, reforestation, and navigating UK grants and schemes. Grant helps landowners understand the best ways to create nature-positive and biodiversity-enhancing areas on their land, offering support from project selection to implementation.