12 March 1999

Opportunities in Agenda 2000

RURAL development plans contained within the Agenda 2000 proposals offer a wide range of opportunities for farmers.

That was the message Ronnie Hall, head of the ECs DG VI unit, responsible for rural development programmes, gave to an ADAS conference Growing Business in the Countryside at Warwick last week.

Targets for rural development measures under Article 31 of the Rural Development Regulations include land improvement, "reparcelling" and restructuring, farm management and the marketing of quality produce. They cover renovation and development of villages, the protection and conservation of rural heritage, and the diversification of activities to provide alternative sources of income.

The new Objective 2 will help rural areas to take some of the limelight from urban regeneration in the UK, said Mr Hall. Funding "in pursuit of the EUs employment strategy" is not limited to geographical areas and includes social issues and training programmes.

Total projected bill for structural funding, at some k286bn, compares with less than k200bn under the current 10-year period, plus an extra k47bn earmarked for enlargement.

"The agricultural sector cannot be treated like any other sector," said Mr Hall. "We recognise its importance. But we are seeking ways in which rural development policy can be delivered in a different way. We are trying to create the notion of independent structural funding."

As an example of local partnership, ADAS is working closely with Groundwork Trust on a Merseyside project which aims to put farmers and consumers together, providing local food for local people.