The government is capping its new nature incentive scheme for farmers following concerns about the amount of land that could be taken out of food production.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) is part of a new system of environmental payments being introduced while the previous EU subsidy regime is being phased out after Brexit.

It pays farmers for actions to protect nature, create habitats and plant food sources for wildlife.

But agricultural leaders in East Anglia had raised concerns that many farmers facing high costs, low incomes and weather challenges may decide to put their land into lower-risk SFI options - which threatened to reduce the nation's food production and self-sufficiency.

Defra says there has been only "limited evidence to date of farmers entering large amounts of their land into actions that take away food production" - but some were being used more than intended.

Under the changes, SFI applicants will only be able to put 25pc of their land into six SFI actions which take land out of direct food production.

These 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; and winter bird food on improved grassland.

Farming minister Mark Spencer had suggested a cap was being considered after hearing concerns raised at the Norfolk Farming Conference in February.

Eastern Daily Press: Farming minister Mark Spencer speaking at the 2024 Norfolk Farming ConferenceFarming minister Mark Spencer speaking at the 2024 Norfolk Farming Conference (Image: Newsquest)

After announcing the changes, he said: “Food production is the primary purpose of farming and today we are taking action to clarify this principle.

"The six actions we are capping were always intended to be implemented on smaller areas of land, and these changes will help to maintain this intention and continue our commitment to maintain domestic food production."

Defra says more than 15,000 applications had been received for SFI, with more than 14,000 agreement offers made, and "the vast majority of land in the scheme continues to produce food".

More information regarding the timing of the cap is expected to be released in the coming weeks.