13 October 2000

MAFF to spend £20m on farm business advice

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS in England are being encouraged to take advantage of an offer of three days free consultancy advice to help them decide where their businesses should be going.

MAFF has now officially launched its £20m Farm Business Advice Service which was first announced at the Downing Street summit in March this year.

Any farmer in England with a County Parish Holding number and spending at least 75% of their time working on the core of their business will be eligible for three days of an advisers time, worth about £1000 after deducting administration costs.

Producers will first get a "health check" of the state of their business and then an analysis of it.

They will then have an action plan drawn up which will include guidance on how to access grants and subsidies available through the Rural Development programme. It will also look at ways to improve business practice including financial management, record keeping and marketing.

Junior farm minister Joyce Quin said the service was part of MAFFs programme to work with farmers to secure a future for the industry.

"We recognise that farming is a multi-skilled industry. Most farmers are already highly skilled in running their agricultural activities, but they also need to operate as businesses producing for the market place in an increasingly competitive world.

"We see this as helping farmers who, through the pressure of their existence, find it difficult to think about the way ahead."

NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said the scheme was a very useful initiative and hoped that farmers would seize the opportunity.

"Because of the pressures farmers are so busy they havent got time to think about business development. But finding time to assess the business is fundamental," he said.

He said the scheme would help to keep farmers within the industry, as people struggling to stay afloat could identify new opportunities.

Cumbrian farmer Kevin Buckle has already received advice through an existing scheme and he encouraged other farmers to grasp the nettle and try out the service.

"They havent got their heads up in the clouds and they are an accessible organisation," he said.

The service will be delivered by the Small Business Services network of Business Link offices which are recruiting staff at the moment. It is estimated that around 15,000 businesses will be helped over the next four years.

Farmers wanting to find to arrange a visit from an adviser should call 0845-604 5678. &#42