More than 3,200 farmers have been accepted on to a scheme in Northern Ireland, which will see them paid to attend meetings aimed at improving their business skills and farm profitability.
Agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill has announced that all 3,225 eligible applications to the first round of Business Development Groups (BDG) scheme will be offered a place on the programme. This is twice the number initially anticipated.
Part-funded through the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2014-2020, the aim of the BDG programme is to help farmers improve their technical and business efficiency.
The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) has identified that some farmers are finding it hard to adapt to changing markets and volatility because they lack some of the required management skills (see Reasons for the scheme).
Farmers will be organised into groups of 15-20 people and each group will meet eight times a year, starting in March, to discuss topics agreed by the members.
Producers will be expected to maintain an active business development plan, attend training events, and be willing to share benchmarking information with other group members.
The programme will meet costs incurred by the farmer – such as replacement labour while they are away from the farm, travel to and from training events and the initial costs associated with any analytical services.
Where farmers attend all eight training events they will qualify for a payment of up to £490 a year.
Ms O’Neill said the scheme would encourage farmers to work together to help develop their businesses and adopt new technology, with the overall aim of improving farm profitability.
“In these challenging times, being part of a BDG has the potential to help farmers improve their business decisions, in relation to future investment, technical improvements and efficiency savings.
“I am delighted to announce that all 3,225 eligible applicants, who applied to the programme at the end of last year, will be offered a place within a local BDG. Initially it was planned to allocate 1,500 places before the end of March, with an additional 1,500 joining the programme later in the year.
“However, demand for the programme was such that I have decided to offer places now to all eligible applicants, so that they can start maximising the benefits as early as possible.”
Reasons for the scheme
About 15% of the people working in the NI agricultural industry do not have an agricultural qualification.
According to DARD, there is a shortfall in management skills in relation to production, business, marketing, and information and communication technology (ICT).
The scheme will provide support for knowledge transfer, innovation, co-operation and capital investment to farmers.