Initiative uses Euro cash to grant valley producers a lifeline
By Jeremy Hunt
NEW opportunities and improving current business performance are the aims of a scheme launched in north Lancs this week.
The Bowland Initiative aims to boost income for up to 1300 farmers in the Bowland valley. Among its first feasibility studies are a scheme to give beef and lamb a regional identity and opportunities for organic milk production.
Funded by European 5b cash, the initiative has access to around £1.2m for capital and diversification grants over the next two-and-a-half years, available for a wide variety of projects. Marketing, training and tourism grants can also be tapped into through the initiative.
Bowland Initiative project manager John Welbank says: "As well as the cash on offer through the initiative, we are able to tap into all available grants. These could include capital and diversification grants for both existing business enterprises or for a new enterprise on the holding.
"The project aims to help farmers within the catchment area to improve their businesses and diversify into new opportunities."
All grants must be tied in with some form of environmental cross-compliance such as a stewardship scheme.
Producers do not have to have any specific idea in mind before approaching the project.
Initially a full appraisal of the farm business is undertaken, which will also identify possible opportunities for improving the business or setting up new ventures.
Following the appraisal, producers will have to present a business plan. An independent consultants fees at this stage can be grant-aided up to 65%.
"This is the first stage of the procedure where producers will be asked to contribute towards cost but we must emphasise that the project team is still providing a full back-up service.
"The Bowland Initiative aims to take away all of the problems that farmers experience completing application forms. Our job is to make the process efficient and as convenient as possible for those involved, and to give applicants a minimum amount of paperwork to complete," says Mr Welbank.
Where planning applications are involved in a new farm scheme the project officers will apply for the grant and assist with the planning application. A Bowland Initiative grant panel – which will have producer representation – will decide on the final allocation of cash from the initiatives funding.
Payments under the European Objective 5b element of the project, Countryside Stewardship, Woodland Grant Scheme, Farm Woodland Premium Scheme and Organic Farming Scheme will be made direct farmers via MAFF or the Forestry Authority.
Grants are available towards the cost of buildings, stock handling units and diversification schemes. The initiative may also be able to help with electronic ear tagging, livestock marketing, grassland management and establishing a buying group.
Work is underway evaluating a formal marketing strategy for beef and lamb produced in the Forest of Bowland region, while a similar study has begun investigating the potential for organic milk production among the areas dairy farmers.
"The appraisal of individual farm businesses is the core element of the project and seeks to unlock new potential sources of income or improve existing set-ups.
"But the marketing evaluations we are involved with will hopefully have a broad benefit to many farmers. We have employed consultants to evaluate the potential for regionally branded beef and lamb. They are already talking to farmers, abattoirs, processors and supermarkets," says Mr Welbank.
Milk Marque consultants have been invited to provide a similar evaluation on the market opportunities available to producers who switch to organic milk production.
"We want to find out what opportunities there are to market locally produced milk and dairy products and then to take it a stage further and look at the market for organic milk and dairy produce.
"Early indications suggest that there is valuable market that can be exploited, from which premiums can be earned.
"Farmers are already saying that they would like to consider organic milk production; they know about the Organic Conversion Scheme and that the figures stack up but they want to know how secure the market is. Any future schemes for meat or milk produced in the area will ensure that all produce is recognisable by the Bowland stamp of identity."
John Alpe, farmers weekly Farmer Focus contributor who runs a dairy and sheep farm in the heart of the Bowland valley at Whitewell, Clitheroe, believes the project has a lot to offer.
"We are seriously looking at all aspects of our business. The projects aims, in particularly its interest in organic farming, sits very comfortably with our farming ethos.
"Profitability in the future will not be based on becoming more intensive. The very opposite holds the key to the continued viability of family farms," adds Mr Alpe. *
• Farm appraisal.
• Apply for grants.
• Market opportunities.