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DEFRA Unearths New Soil Standards

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

With the end of basic payments on the horizon many farmers have been left wondering how the government plans to replace farming subsidies post-brexit. In this article Edd takes a look at the update from DEFRA on new soil standards as part of the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

Little information has been shared about the proposed Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) leaving many farmers unsure how to plan ahead. However, yesterday DEFRA published the first details of what can be expected from one component of the SFI, highlighting plans to incentive improvements to soil health from Spring 2022.

'We’ve decided to start with soil health since that is where everything connected with successful farming starts,' DEFRA write, 'Enhancing the natural health and fertility of our soils is one of the most important things we can do to start making our farming more profitable and sustainable.'

This message certainly chimes with us at FarmED (check out this year's Regenerative Soil Health courses), but what exactly is it that farmers will be incentivized to do?

Two soil standards have been described, one for arable and horticultural soils, the other for improved grasslands. In short, both standards are tiered with introductory, intermediate and advanced options. Base level practices include regular soil monitoring and assessment, as well as efforts to maintain ground cover and increase organic matter for arable and horticulture, or by manage stocking density and diversifying improved grasslands. Farmers can graduate through the tiers principally by committing more land to each category of management practice, but also by adopting practices that reduce tillage, prevent soil erosion and run-off, and reduce compaction. All of these practices are to be monitored and managed through a soil management plan.

Clearly for many, this is possibly a chance to start getting paid for practices already employed on many farms. However for some, this change in focus might require a rethink of how best to optimize the farm to benefit from the ecological, agronomic and now financial benefits of soil health. If you find yourself in the latter camp, you might like to take a look at the Fundamentals of Regenerative Soil Health Course being run with Niels Corfield at FarmED this year.

Similarly, if you're looking to diversify grassland or to increase ground cover in your arable rotation you might like to sign up for the Establishing & Managing Herbal Leys course on the 13th July:

While this news certainly shows movement in the right direction, payments for improvements to soil health won't bridge the gap alone. A number of other incentives are being trialed in a pilot scheme from this autumn with farmers across the nation, and DEFRA have suggested further standards will be developed, including an agroforestry standard which we remain very curious to learn more about. However, for those who are keen to make a start on agroforestry this year, make sure you book your place on this year's Agroforestry Design Masterclass on the 8th & 9th September.


Find out more about the update to the Agricultural Transition Plan and soil standards here.

For further reading take a look at Sustain's article on the SFI update.

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