In a startling revelation, English farmers are teetering on the edge of financial ruin, with some at risk of losing up to 63% of their income. The delay in the UK Government's new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) has left farmers in a precarious situation, devoid of state support for an extended period.
Originally, farmers were assured that they could apply for the SFI, intended to replace the EU's Basic Payments Scheme, from mid-August. However, a sudden announcement over the bank holiday weekend by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) revealed that the application date had been deferred to September 18.
This delay has particularly affected nearly 4,000 farmers who cultivate 'common land'. Julia Aglionby, Executive Director of the Foundation for Common Land, expressed her concerns to the BBC, stating that many farmers have already lost between 35-50% of their income this year. "It's absolutely critical that these new schemes come in promptly," she urged.
The Government had initially launched a scheme called Sustainable Farming Incentive 2022, only to withdraw it in June. Aglionby highlighted the Government's inconsistency, saying, "We knew there would be a two-month gap, but now it appears there could be a gap of up to six months."
DEFRA has acknowledged the issue, stating that they are considering an "offline system" but have not specified when this will be implemented. "Commoners have been deprioritised yet they’re looking after some of the most precious land in England," Aglionby lamented.
In a statement, DEFRA assured that the SFI has something for every type of farmer, including those who farm common land. However, the rural payments agency will work with them to provide bespoke support, raising questions about the effectiveness and timeliness of such measures.
Immediate Action Required
The delay in the SFI application process not only jeopardises the livelihoods of thousands of farmers but also puts at risk the stewardship of some of England's most valuable land. As the clock ticks, farmers and advocates alike are calling for immediate action from the Government.