Farming leaders have welcomed a major expansion of the government's new environmental payment scheme - but concerns remain over its "deliverability".

Defra secretary Steve Barclay unveiled a significant upgrade for the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) - part of a new system of environmental rewards being introduced while former "direct payment" EU subsidies are being phased out after Brexit.

Up to 50 new actions will be launched this summer to help farmers invest in areas like precision farming and agroforestry for the first time, or to pay farmers who are already protecting the environment, for example, through maintaining grasslands, wetlands and scrub.

Mr Barclay announced that payment rates would be increased by an average of 10pc for both SFI and Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreements.

He added that the schemes have been made more flexible and easier to access, and the changes had been designed based on farmers' feedback.

National Farmers' Union (NFU) vice president David Exwood welcomed the new SFI options for 2024, which he said will "provide further clarity which is much needed by farming businesses in order to plan for the future".

"However, we still have more questions than answers around the deliverability of these new options," he added.

"With a minimum of 50pc reduction in direct payments due in 2024, the tapering of payments to 2027 continues to be very concerning. We urgently need business-critical details on how farmers and growers will smoothly transition from existing agreements to the new offer.

"We repeat our calls for Defra to undertake a mid-term review – an urgent assessment is needed of the agricultural transition on food production and farm business viability. 

"It is imperative that SFI has sustainable food production at its core, with enough options that sit around productive farming.

"For this to happen, it is absolutely vital that there’s a better balance between policies that focus on enhancing food production as well as the environment."