8 October 1999

Maximum cash

By David Green

THE proprietor of a farm shop and nursery has become the first recipient of the maximum £50,000 grant under an EU and MAFF diversification scheme.

Tom Dent, who runs the businesses on his familys 95ha (240 acre) farm at Hilgay in Norfolk, will put the money towards the cost of building bigger premises and expanding the range of products he sells.

The Farm Diversification Capital Grant scheme was launched in May this year and £2m is available up to March 2003 to help farms in rural areas of East Anglia which are classed by the EU as economically and socially deprived.

The area includes much of Norfolk, east Suffolk and the Fens.

Mr Dent, who hopes to employ more casual workers to run the shop, nursery and five fishing lakes, said he and his father had been forced to diversify because of the farms small acreage.

Trade at the farm shop has increased steadily over the past few years but it has been difficult to expand because of the shortage of space.

"Our aim is to build up a viable farm business which will generate enough income throughout the year to sustain the family and a small workforce," Mr Dent said.

Earlier this year, a maize maze planted on a 3.25ha (8 acre) plot near the farm shop attracted more than 1000 visitors.

Officials running the diversification scheme in East Anglia say about 24 grants have so far been approved, but 500 farmers have already registered their intention to apply.