Big grants on offer to improve farm productivity

Grants of up to £1m are still available for a wide range of farm projects under the Countryside Productivity Scheme’s Improving Farm Productivity (IFP) initiative.

With a minimum project size of £87,500, the scheme helps farmers in England develop a wide range of improvements from innovative technology for crop and livestock production to improving nutrient management and making the best use of energy efficiency equipment.

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Successful examples of applications include robotic kit for intra-row weeding, robotic milkers, the purchase of battery storage or large-scale slurry application equipment.

Applications close on 3 December and a couple of months is often needed to allow proper research, draw up a business plan and complete the application, says Katie Hilton, an associate at land agent Cheffins.

The firm has been involved in securing grants worth between £90,000 and £500,000 under the Rural Development Programme for England Growth Programme and Countryside Productivity.

Its projects under IFP include a poultry unit with an existing biomass boiler which has applied for a heat distribution network and equipment to make better use of the renewable heat generated on farm.

“It is important to note in cases like this that the application costs can include pipework, heat exchangers and pumps but not the heat source (eg, biomass boiler) itself. This must already be in place,” says Ms Hilton.

Another farm is considering an application to fund a digestate bag to store sugar beet pulp on-farm for use as a soil conditioner and fertiliser.

“Flexible storage bags for products like digestate are favourable because they prevent both methane and ammonia losses,” says Ms Hilton. Eligible costs for a project like this one can include site preparation and associated pumps and stirrers as well as the storage bag itself.

“The vast majority of projects we have handled would not have been able to happen without the grant being available,” says Ms Hilton.

Applicants can expect the financial health of the business and its projections to be scrutinised. This element of the form can often seem like a difficult balance to strike, she says.

“You need to show you are a viable, growing business that can withstand the investment you are proposing, but on the other hand you need to show you are good value for money and a worthy recipient of funds.”

Improving Farm Productivity – application tips

  • Make a thorough job of completing the forms. 
  • Some types of grant require an initial expression of interest to be made before the go-ahead is given for a full application. IFP grants need only a full application.
  • Make a robust case for the direct benefits to the business as well as any indirect benefits to others.
  • The application includes a written form, a cashflow budget spreadsheet and quotes. Project outputs must also be listed.
  • Make a clear case – show how the benefits have been calculated, for example, how have you calculated the creation of a new job and how will this affect your wage bill? If you believe the project will increase turnover, you must show how this has been calculated. Be realistic.
  • Take advantage of advice from the RPA.
  • Research carefully and allow plenty of time. Pulling together the information needed can take longer than expected.
  • Three separate quotes will be needed for everything.
  • Letters of support from established customers will help where relevant.
  • These grants must give value for money – demonstrate that your application meets the scheme objectives and explain why funding is needed.
  • If planning permission is needed, this must have been approved before submitting a full application.
  • Tenants must declare this in their application and prove that their tenancy has at least six years to run.
  • Demonstrate your ability to fund the non-grant element of the project (funding is normally at 40%), including evidence of any loan agreement/overdraft facility.

What’s coming up?

A new round of funding for the Countryside Productivity Small Grants Scheme is due for launch in the autumn. This will be for specific pieces of farm equipment and not larger-scale projects. The grants are funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

The UK government has guaranteed funding for RDPE Countryside Productivity Scheme grants if these are agreed and signed before the UK’s departure from the EU, even if the grant agreements continue after the UK has left the EU.