DEFRA has announced new measures to limit the amount of land farmers can take out of productive actions under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

But the move has been met with a mixed reaction from farm chiefs, land agents and countryside campaigners.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) warned that the decision could hit take-up.

And Robert Sullivan, head of farm business at Cumbrian land agents GSC Grays believes that Defra’s decision to limit the impact of land being taken out of food production under SFI could be followed by further changes in farming policies.

The six actions the cap will be applied to are: Flower-rich grass margins; Pollen and nectar flower mix; Winter bird food on arable and horticultural land; Grassy field corners and blocks; Improved grassland field corners or blocks out of management; Winter bird food on improved grassland.

The changes will not apply to SFI applications already in progress, agreements which have already been offered or existing SFI agreements.

NFU Deputy President David Exwood welcomed the announcement which he said “sets out to achieve a greater balance” between supporting food production alongside protecting and enhancing the environment. “We have long said, it’s not an either or,” he added.

Robert Sullivan added: “Some of the unintended consequences of the SFI scheme have been exacerbated by the economic climate and poor weather, as farmers seek to de-risk their businesses. This variation from Defra could be one of more changes to follow and reaffirms our advice that farmers should take up these schemes while they are available.

“The announcement may be of concern to farmers who have made changes to their farming practices under their SFI agreement for options that may not be available in three years.

“Those farmers who have already made significant changes to their farming practices to achieve the outcomes of the scheme now have the opportunity to utilise the options they have entered into to ensure their land is in better condition to come back into agricultural production at the end of the three-year agreement”.