Farmers wishing to apply for grant funding under the England Rural Development Programme for a new business project should start putting plans together now or risk missing out.

With the ERDP due to close at the end of this year, DEFRA has announced a 30 June deadline for new applications under the social and economic schemes contained under the ERDP umbrella.

These are the Rural Enterprise Scheme, the Processing and Marketing Grant, the Vocational Training Scheme and the Energy Crops (SRC) Producer Group Scheme.

Given the time it takes to put applications together, farmers are being urged to start now to ensure they can meet the deadline.

To avoid unnecessary delay, DEFRA said it was particularly important that applicants understood how well their project met stated regional priorities, what level of supporting information was needed, and how long the process was likely to take.

“We are urging farmers to contact their local Rural Development Service office as soon as possible to discuss their ideas,” a spokeswoman said.

Robin Turney, a consultant at Laurence Gould’s Newmarket office, said farmers had to move quickly.

“Competition is going to increase the later you leave the application.”

He said there was plenty of money left in the pot for fast-track applications, which required a grant below £15,000.

“There is an opportunity to get these sorted out fairly quickly.”

Those needing more grant still had time, but with applications mounting advisers’ time was getting tight, he added.

And, with 80% of applications involving planning permission, it was vital to get this as soon as possible to meet the deadline, he said.

Although a new programme will replace the ERDP to provide funding for social and economic development in rural areas, it will be run by England’s Regional Development Agencies, which will introduce new funding arrangements.

DEFRA will only start consulting the industry on it from next week, so there are no details as to what type of project might qualify and how much money will be made available.

Mr Turney was worried that funding emphasis could switch from farming towards the general rural infrastructure.

“It’s still vague. But some of these agencies are not as farming-orientated as the RDS, whose project-based schemes have been extremely good for the agricultural sector,” he said.

DEFRA was keen to point out that other parts of the ERDP, namely Environmental Stewardship, which delivers agri-environment funding, Energy Crops Scheme establishment grants, the Hill Farm Allowance and the English Woodland Grant Scheme, were not affected.

robert.harris@rbi.co.uk