Farmers in Wales are being urged to take up the offer of two days’ free business advice as the Welsh Assembly’s Farming Connect initiative enters its final year.

“The free Farm Business Development Plan is at the heart of what Farming Connect is all about,” said Carwyn Jones, Wales’ rural affairs minister.

“Working with a business consultant enables farming families to focus on the future viability of their businesses, to identify opportunities, and to think about the skills they need for the future.”

More than 6500 farmers had registered to use the services of a business consultant, and 3927 plans had been completed.

Mr Jones also reminded producers that, while most funds for Farm Improvement and Enterprise grants had run out, they had until 17 March to apply for financial help that was still available to diversify into non-farming enterprises.

The grants schemes introduced in September 2001 had been a huge success, with over 22.8m going to some 1730 projects around Wales.

This money had encouraged a total investment of more than 61m in the infrastructure of the Welsh farming industry.

Noel Morgan, manager of Farming Connect, said that over 25,000 farmers had received advice though the project’s network of local facilitators and 3500 had taken advantage of information technology training.

Records showed 27,000 people had attended over 1000 technical events like open days and seminars linked to demonstration and development farms.

Clearly many people had registered on several occasions, but he was sure that a very significant number had improved their knowledge of research and best practice.

“It is an indisputable fact that farmers and organisations outside Wales are very jealous of the way that Farming Connect has been able to contribute to improving the incomes of Welsh farmers,” said Mr Morgan.

This had been achieved using EU Objective 1 cash, match funded by the Welsh Assembly, and the skills of private consultants and experts at many different organisations, including Hybu Cig Cymru, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research and the Wales Organic Centre.

There was much still to do before Farming Connect’s remit ran out and the new Farm Advisory Service is established in January 2007.

bobdavies@agrinews.fsnet.co.uk