After the challenges of a rain-affected harvest, Norfolk farmers were told that new environmental payments could help "de-risk" their operations in 2024.

Finance experts said the flexibility of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) could offer a useful tool for farmers grappling with unpredictable weather, high costs and volatile commodity markets.

The SFI is part of a series of Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) which will reward farmers for improving nature and habitats on their land.

They are being introduced to replace the EU's land-based subsidies, being phased out after Brexit.

Mat Waters, agricultural partner at Norfolk-based accountancy firm Lovewell Blake, said farmers should consider incorporating the SFI into their crop rotation next year – without the need to abandon food production altogether.

"This year is proving to be one of the most challenging harvests for many years," he said.

"Not only have we seen a significant increase in input costs coupled with volatility in the prices farmers receive for their crops, but the wettest July for a decade has led to harvests having to be delayed, and to increased costs associated with drying crops which have had to be gathered in less than optimal conditions."

As farm businesses start to implement next season’s cropping plan, the SFI could offer some respite from uncertainty, said Mr Waters.

"It is definitely worth considering 'environmental crops' in place of traditional break crops as part of the rotation," he said.

"This gives the farmer a guaranteed contractual income, and takes away the uncertainty of production costs for the year. And it can help with productivity in the long term, allowing time for soil to recover without sacrificing income in the short term.

"This can de-risk a portion of the farm for 2024, making future harvests more sustainable.

"The advantage of the SFI over other land stewardship schemes is that it is a menu of initiatives that you can dip in and out of, without forcing farmers to take a long-term decision to move away from food production, which many are reluctant to do."