Make grants relevant and accessible
NEW restructuring and marketing grants must be relevant, accessible and of benefit to individual farmers, not like some other schemes that have produced reports left to gather dust on shelves.
This plea from Gary Markham, agricultural partner at Grant Thornton, is directed at MAFF, which is waiting to hear from Brussels whether its proposals on the new Rural Enterprise Scheme are acceptable.
The scheme is part of the Rural Development Plan which could deliver up to £1.7bn of funding in rural areas to the year 2007. "I would urge MAFF to make sure that this money is going to some use. It is important not to fall into a bureaucratic trap."
MAFF is keen that grants should benefit businesses on the ground, says Mr Markham. "There is a great opportunity here, but it is important that they get to know what is happening on farms and that it will help farming families."
The RES is designed to give aid to projects which promote the adaptation and development of rural areas. It includes potential grant aid to establish farm relief and management services, like contract milking, shepherding and environmental grazing services, as well as machinery rings and syndicates. Grants would cover feasibility studies and initial management and training costs.
Marketing of quality agricultural products, diversification, encouragement of tourism and crafts and renovation and development of villages also feature.
The go-ahead should be given this summer, but it is unlikely that money will be available before the autumn, says Mr Markham.
• June 18 is the final deadline for grant applications to the Agricul-tural Development Scheme, aimed at helping farmers improve their competitiveness through better marketing.
Projects must be of a non-capital nature, and these grants are only available to partnerships which are groups of primary producers or companies.
Syndicates and joint ventures might benefit, said Mr Markham, with funding available for up to 50% of a successful scheme, and offering a minimum of £10,000 and maximum of £150,000 to cover costs including staff salaries, NI, pension costs, overheads, and professional fees. *