10 April 1998

East Anglian farmers slow to milk EU development coffers

ALMOST £5m of EU cash remains unclaimed by East Anglian farmers from a scheme designed to strengthen rural economies, create jobs and sustain farm incomes.

Objective 5b, which is also geared to sustaining the environmental quality of the countryside, covers land farmed by 2665 farmers in rural east Suffolk, rural Norfolk, and the Fens.

Farmers have access to three pots of EU cash: Social Fund, Regional Development Fund, and one aimed specifically at farmers, the Agricultural Guarantee and Guidance Fund.

"This is worth 10.5m ecus, or £8m, which is 20% of the total funds," says agricultural sector co-ordinator Chris Nix.

"The cash has been available since December 1994 and applications must be approved before December 1999. Farmers then have two more years to complete work. "Only about 40% of the EU money has been taken up so far. There are many more opportunities to exploit in the 5b areas."

Brussels cash is available for farm diversification, marketing, tourism, crop and product diversification, plus woodland and environmental projects. Each will be assessed on value for money, job creation, collaboration, innovation, and sustainability.

Diversification project

ADASs Farm Diversification Project pinpoints opportunities, using consultants at 50% of cost. Typical charges range from £500 to £3000.

A Cambs potato grower applied for funds to secure a reliable supply of irrigation water to meet supermarket quality standards.

The alternative was to simplify the cropping with more cereals, which would have meant one of two employees being made redundant. ADAS helped secure a water abstraction licence, located a suitable reservoir site, prepared tender documents for the construction and planning permission, and supervised construction.

Two separate projects to add value to straw have been supported by the Agricultural Guarantee and Guidance Fund and MAFF.

In one, a Suffolk cereal grower was able to develop an existing straw-based poultry litter and horse bedding business. To meet increased demand from the expanded enterprise straw is now purchased from neighbours.

In the other project a Norfolk farmer used EU funds to mechanise and expand demand for hay and straw for the small pet market.

Farm tourism enterprises, such as camp and caravan sites, bunk barns, and rural attractions are eligible for EU support via the East of England Tourist Boards capital grants scheme. Six grants worth £65,000 have been awarded to encourage new and improved facilities. Businesses can qualify for 40% of the capital cost. &#42