A sustainable produce scheme that pays farmers a premium for protecting wildlife on their land has received a boost after signing up Allied Mills, one of the UK's largest millers.

Starting this season, Allied Mills will add 18,000 acres to the almost 60,000 acres of farmland accredited by the Conservation Grade scheme, which runs the Nature Friendly Farming (NFF) marque that can be used on certified products. It joins Vitacress Salads, Jordans Cereals and Allinson flour, which already procure Conservation Grade produce.

The tonnage that Allied Mills would source initially was "modest", said procurement director Howard Leland, but he hoped this would increase as Allied's customers which include Kingsmill, Allinson and Burgen bread increasingly realised the benefit of using the NFF logo on their products. "We are confident our customers will realise the enormous market potential in developing brands around 'Nature Friendly Farming'," he said.

Conservation Grade requires farmers to use at least 10% of their land for wildlife habitats and also works with them to ensure yields do not drop. It taps into growing interest in 'sustainable intensification', highlighted in the Foresight report earlier this year.

Allied's move comes as Defra this week published a White Paper outlining its vision for protecting and repairing the countryside. A growing population meant pressure on food production was increasing, the report said, but food increases had to be achieved sustainably. "We acknowledge that potential tensions exist between improving the environment and increasing food production, and this requires interested parties to work together," it added.

The government will also set up an Ecosystem Markets Task Force, which will "review opportunities for UK business from expanding the trade in green goods and sustainable natural services", and issue guidelines on how environmental impact should be measured and reported.