Farming Investment Fund grants – what’s on offer?

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has set aside £27m to help farmers in England improve efficiency and deliver environmental benefits.

That sum will have to fund individual projects of up to £500,000 as the budget is spread across the two elements of the scheme: the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF) and the Farming Transformation Fund (FTF).

See also: How tenants could benefit from natural capital initiatives

Competitive applications

Interest is expected to be high and surveyor Judy Holmes of Berrys anticipates a very competitive application process.

“Defra will score applications based on the benefits to farm productivity, health and welfare of animals and the environmental benefits, particularly biodiversity,’’ she says.

Applicants don’t need to be Basic Payment Scheme claimants to be eligible, but they do need to register with the RPA.

Defra has based the FETF on the popular Countryside Productivity Small Grant (CPSG), but has made important changes, notably increasing the number of qualifying items from 85 to 120.

“They’ve made this change to better reflect the needs of all agricultural sectors, including horticulture and forestry,’’ says Mrs Holmes.

The list will be reviewed for subsequent rounds of FIF funding, so items may be removed or added.

The minimum spend has been reduced, from £3,000 to £2,000, and the financial ceiling raised to £25,000.

Mrs Holmes says this upper level allows higher-value items to qualify and for variation in equipment type – a wider range of direct drill sizes, for instance.

Agricultural contractors registered in England have also been added to the list of eligible FETF applicants.

More flexibility

Unlike the predecessor scheme, there is more flexibility on removing items from an application.

In the past, if a farmer applied for a grant for several items and one could not be delivered ahead of the scheme deadline, funding for all of the items would have been lost.

Under the new scheme, requests to remove items will be considered on a case-by-case basis if delivery deadlines cannot be met or where applicants have selected the wrong item.

Also unlike the CPSG, the new scheme pays a set amount towards each item, rather than a percentage of its cost up to a limit.

Mrs Holmes warns that applicants must be careful to ensure that by removing an item their grant claim doesn’t fall below £2,000 – if it does the claim won’t be eligible.

For the FTF, grants ranging from £35,000 to £500,000 are available, but Defra has so far released details only for qualifying water management projects.

FETF application and claim tips

  • Online applications only, which should take about 20 minutes to complete (and can’t be saved for later completion).
  • Make sure details given in the application match those held on the Rural Payments service – for example, the business address of the applicant must match and if an agent is applying, they must have the correct permissions.
  • No quotes are required for items, but if buying eligible and ineligible items at the same time, ask the supplier to invoice for them separately.
  • While the maximum grant is now £25,000, you can apply for a total of £50,000 over the duration of scheme, so if there are two application rounds, it’s possible to apply for £25,000 grant funding under each one.
  • Only brand new items are eligible – no secondhand or “try before you buy”.
  • A refundable deposit for eligible items can be paid at the applicant’s risk – there’s no guarantee that the FETF application will be successful.
  • A refundable deposit cannot be for more than 40% of the total cost of the item and must be paid in advance (but must not have been paid before 16 November 2021). The invoice must state “refundable deposit” for that element of the payment.
  • If the application is approved, a Grant Funding Agreement (GFA) and claim form will be sent by email. The GFA needs to be accepted via the online acceptance portal.
  • Items should be ordered as soon as the GFA is accepted, to ensure they’re delivered and installed before submitting a claim.
  • Do not pay in full for the item until the GFA is received and accepted.
  • Payment evidence will be required with the claim. Cash payments are not eligible.
  • When paying for items in full from the applicant’s bank or building society or business credit card, the account name needs to match the business name held on the Rural Payments service (and on the FETF application).
  • Make sure that items meet the specification detailed in Annex 3 and are delivered, installed and made operational if required before submitting the claim by 30 September 2022. Photographic evidence of this needs to be submitted with the claim, including evidence of the serial number of each item and that it has the required CE or UKCA marking.
  • Keep receipts and invoices. Invoices must include the detailed specification for the item as laid out in Annex 3.

Source: Alice De Soer, director, Rural Response

Water management projects

Under this initiative, projects which help secure water supplies or improve the efficiency of using water for irrigation will be considered.

Sam Kelly, managing director of Kelly Farm Consulting, says: “This could be achieved by moving away from rain gun applicators to trickle or boom application, or constructing on-farm reservoirs to move away from summer water abstraction.”

The grant could also cover the installation of efficient irrigation systems to help increase yield or irrigate new high-value crops.

Defra aims to release future themes and grants in the coming months.

“Based on previous statements, we could expect these themes to be based on precision agriculture equipment, for example, low emission and variable-rate nutrient or pesticide application, robotic or automated technology and equipment and technology for storing, sorting, or processing products,’’ says Mr Kelly.

What is available under the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund?

There is a significant list of eligible items, under the categories of resource management, precision and analysis, livestock handling and weighing and other livestock items.

Among the most relevant under the resource management heading are rainwater harvesting, UV water treatment, robotic slurry collectors and pushers, slurry separators, slurry application equipment and milk cooling equipment.

For precision and analysis, qualifying items include direct drills, variable rate controllers for sprayers and fertiliser spreaders and tractor-mounted nitrogen measuring equipment.

The range of items listed under livestock handling and weighing include mobile or fixed cattle and sheep handling systems, cattle crushes, EID readers and automatic drafting equipment and weigh cells.

Automated foot-baths for cattle, heat detection aids, automatic calf feeders, mobile milk pasteurisers and automatic vaccination and drenching guns are also included.

Importantly, any funding received under the small grants scheme does not count towards an applicant’s allowance under this fund, says Mr Kelly.

How to prepare and get ahead with an FTF application

The key is to prepare early – understand what you want to invest in and why, advises Chris Sheldon, an agri-business consultant at Brown & Co.

“Act quickly as there will be competition for funding and the RPA can remove funds if a scheme is fully committed,’’ he says.

Make a list of the quantifiable benefits, such as the projected additional production resulting from an investment, and provide figures on what that means for turnover, he recommends.

“If you need planning and consent for projects such as reservoirs or a construction element of a project, get this done now.’’

Understand what outputs you can offer in relation to the grant request as this will make for a stronger application – the more funding the RPA commits to a project, the more benefits it wants to see.

“Utilise the funding for as much of the project as possible – if some elements of a project rely on additional equipment to make it work then those may become eligible too,’’ says Mr Sheldon.

“The schemes may seem niche, but this doesn’t mean that your project won’t qualify, you may be surprised at what is eligible.’’

FIF deadlines

The deadline for FETF applications is midday on 7 January 2022 (not midnight, as with some past schemes). Those with successful applications must submit a single claim by midnight on 30 September 2022.

For the FTF scheme, offering larger grants, there will be an online eligibility checker. Projects that score highly enough against the scheme’s objectives will be invited to make a full application.

The initial deadline for this is 12 January 2022 and the deadline to complete full applications is 30 June 2022.

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