DEFRA has launched a new free farm business advice service “Knowing Your Options” to replace its former three-day scheme, which ended on 31 March this year.
The service, which will run until March 2007 with 7.5m of funding, will focus specifically on helping farmers to consider the impact of the single farm payment on their business and the opportunities for change including restructuring, diversification and co-operation.
Speaking at the launch on 21 October, farming minister Lord Bach said: “Farmers are facing a momentous change over the next couple of years following the decoupling of subsidies.
Many of them are embracing the opportunities this creates to develop their business in new ways, but some need support through the changes ahead.”
To target as many farmers as possible, individual on-farm advice will be limited to half-day visits, but phone information and local advice clinics will also be available.
Services will be delivered by rural consultants under eight regional contracts.
Mark Howard, NFU south-east chairman and director of rural consultant Cometline Consultancy, said it was a shame DEFRA had not been able to provide sufficient funding to allow the FBAs to continue in its original format.
“People will have to realise it will now be more like troubleshooting and suggestions.”
But Mr Howard said the emphasis on the effects of CAP reform was sensible and the fact that DEFRA had extended the scheme at all was to be welcomed.
“But what is a cause for concern is what will happen in 2007 when responsibility for delivery of advice goes to the Regional Development Agencies,” he added.
Richard Brogden of consultant Bruton Knowles said because the scheme was likely to be heavily promoted and funding was limited farmers should thing about applying earlier rather than later.