Improving competitiveness, productivity and sustainability are central aims for grant funding available to farms and other rural businesses under the various Rural Development Programmes in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
While the bulk of RDP cash is spent on agri-environment schemes such as stewardship and energy crops, there is also grant funding for a diverse range of activities through eight Regional Development Agencies in England and the assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Unlike many earlier grant schemes targeted at specific areas of development, these programmes have broad aims and are flexible. Across all regions there is cash to help rural businesses with advice, training and practical farm investment.
There are separate Rural Development Programmes for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland running from 2007-2013 with a combined budget of almost £6.5bn. Devolution of grant funding has led to a wide range of regional approaches.
England’s RDAs administer £600m of RDP funds for economic and social projects to increase the competitiveness of farmers, improve the quality of rural life and diversify the rural economy.
Projects must address regional priorities. Applications and accompanying business plans need to be of a high standard, demonstrating energy saving, job creation, adding value, developing new products and, ideally, collaboration. If planning permission is needed, this must be gained first.
The level of grant aid depends on project type and region but most capital projects attract funding of between 30% and 50%. The message from the RDAs is: “Talk to us, we want to know what your idea is and how we can help you.”
“The RDAs have dedicated teams to provide advice and guidance. It’s really important to get in touch at an early stage to talk through your ideas and find out about the application process. They are there to help you,” says Cindy Winn, head of rural economy at the East of England Development Agency.
Thousands of projects have been awarded grant aid under current schemes across the country.
Examples of grant funding in England
• Meat processing, cutting and retail facilities for Woburn Country Foods to help 10 producers improve marketing and returns, awarded £274,000 by EEDA
• £4m to Camgrain at Linton, Cambridgeshire from EEDA for grain processing facilities to provide high quality food ingredients and cut carbon
• Development of a canalside marina at Thrupp Wharf on farmland near Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire with a grant of £178,230 from East Midlands Development Agency
• Anaerobic digestion and water recycling project in Lincoln, grant of £568,884 from EMDA
• Park End Farms Woodfuel awarded £29,600 by One North East to expand and develop woodchipping operations following farm diversification
• Slurry separation, rain water harvesting, wind and solar power are several of many new technology grants to promote energy, manure and water resource efficiency by Yorkshire Forward
Scotland’s primary RDP aims are for a greener Scotland and to promote a wealthier and fairer rural Scotland, delivered through several schemes including the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme, the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation Grant Scheme and Rural Development Contracts.
Examples of grant funding in Scotland
• £13,098 to enhance farm business and dairy herd management through establishment of woodland and new grazing access tracks. Improved access increases grazing time and area, cutting production costs and risk of lameness
• Grant of £12,097 will fund hydraulic foot trimming cattle crush for herds in Lanarkshire, creating additional employment and delivering animal health and welfare benefits
• Slurry storage, dry cow accommodation, fertility and lameness will be improved by £247,000 grant to help expansion at a farm in Biggar, will also help take herd from 200 to 400 cows and create two additional full time jobs
In Wales, the Farming Connect initiative offers full funding in some cases for one to one support, expertise, training and advisory services to make farm businesses more efficient.
The Welsh Assembly Processing and Marketing Grant Scheme has helped more than 100 projects so far, funding investments which add value to agricultural and forestry products. Projects must demonstrate clear benefits to primary producers.
Another scheme aims to take costs out of the supply chain and improve producers’ marketing capability. Wales also has a new entrants’ scheme for under 40s, offering a maximum of £15,000 in capital grants covering up to 50% of expenditure.
Examples of grant funding in Wales
• A micro brewery at Kilkiffeth Farm, Pontfaen, near Fishguard makes three beers from the farm’s spring water. Business plan, professional mentoring, marketing and research also received funding
• Improved refrigerated potato storage at Lewis Pearson, Haverfordwest to extend supply and increase production, £59,682 grant on total project of £149,205
• A farmer near Welshpool returned to dairying after receiving help through Farming Connect to draw up a whole farm plan, including a business mentor for five days of subsidised advice, preparation of a new business plan and subsidised training.
Northern Ireland’s schemes cover farm modernisation, training, advice and development of new business ideas. The Processing and Marketing Grant Scheme offers a top rate of 40% with a maximum of £500,000. Marketing Development Grants pay up to 40% though larger businesses are limited to a 20% grant rate. A Farm Modernisation Programme offers up to £5000 on eligible expenditure of £12,500 and up to £10,000 for advanced slurry handling equipment.
To find out what is being funded, go to www.rdpenetwork.org.uk/projects, an excellent resource which encourages funders to list details of projects across England. It also provides links to RDAs and other UK funding bodies.
Local Action Groups
Local Action Groups are community-led groups of volunteers from public, private and voluntary sectors. Each group sets a local development strategy and awards RDP funds. LAGs help rural communities improve quality of life and prosperity through small and medium-scale projects. However, not all areas have LAGs.
Typical priorities include improving competitiveness, sustaining local employment, encouraging tourism facilities, addressing deprivation and encouraging vibrant rural communities.
The LAG structure also demonstrates flexibility, with funding of £500,000 given to Cumbria’s two Local Action Groups to help farmers get land back into use after the November floods.
Grants of up to £6800 are available for hiring equipment or specialist contractors to move debris, repair structures damaged by flooding and remove gravel to the edge of fields. A further £1.2m will be available to help flooded businesses rebuild trade, fund tourism initiatives and to meet other needs over the next year.
Example of practical help on farm with LAG funding
The North West Development Agency’s Livestock Programme is putting £18m into improving animal health, nutrition management and efficiency. More than 1700 farm plans have been drawn up by advisors and vets to improve productivity. Capital grants are also available for animal health and welfare, nutrient management and resource efficiency.
At Nigel Teasdale’s Halefield Farm, Kirkby Thorne, cow housing was identified as a problem area for both cow comfort and milk hygiene. Grant funding has been awarded for new cubicles and mattresses, as well as cluster flushing in the parlour.
Whether sheep-shearing, dairy hygiene or pie-making, there’s a course for it and there is probably financial support for the cost of that course. Lantra’s LandSkills programme has contracts with six English RDAs and with Wales and Scotland. Improvements in technical and managerial skills are on offer too.
Chainsaw, forklift, BASIS, HGV and PA certificates as well as COSHH training can be funded through Landskills. In Wales, shotgun training with BASC is 80% funded. In most cases only the training and not the cost of tests or certificates is grant aided, often with a private contribution from 20% upwards.
In Wales, 80% funding or up to £1000 is available for practical and regulation linked training to improve working practices, meet statutory requirements and help diversify.
Rural businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly can get 100% funding through Business Forward for training to develop a business plan, marketing strategy, staff management or to assess a planned investment, for which individual consultant time is also fully funded.
As well as regular college courses, LandSkills will fund farmers, food processors, and foresters for courses run through organisations like EBLEX, FWAG and ADAS. More at www.lantra.co.uk (helpline 0845 2788800), which is also running a Women and Work initiative offering £450 a head special funding to encourage women to train in land based skills.
Interest-free unsecured business loans are on offer from the Carbon Trust (non RDP) to help finance and invest in energy saving projects. Farm projects already helped by this scheme include grain drying, dairy heat recovery, creep heating for piglets and potato store insulation. See www.carbontrust.co.uk for more.