Farmers urged to tap into £35m rural growth fund

PUBLISHED: 07:49 08 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:01 08 November 2019

Farmers have been urged to take advantage of the government's £35m Growth Programme fund to diversify their business. Picture: Julie Smart / iWitness24

Farmers have been urged to take advantage of the government's £35m Growth Programme fund to diversify their business. Picture: Julie Smart / iWitness24

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Farmers and rural businesses across East Anglia have been urged to tap into a £35m pot of government cash which could help unlock their potential and future-proof their enterprise.

The Growth Programme announced by Defra provides grants of up to £750,000 for rural start-ups and businesses to purchase equipment and machinery in order to expand, with three specific funding streams available for business development, tourism infrastructure and food processing.

It is the latest funding round in a scheme which the government says has already granted £99m to 546 firms across the country, creating more than 3,700 jobs.

With the EU's land-based subsidy system due to be phased out after Brexit, rural experts said the fund presented a timely opportunity for farms looking to diversify and create new non-agricultural revenue streams.

Jason Cantrill, senior associate director with property agency Strutt and Parker in Norwich, said: "We know that generating additional revenue streams is a priority for many farmers at the moment, as they look to future-proof their businesses, given the prospect of the Basic Payment Scheme being phased out over the next eight years. This funding will be invaluable for anyone looking to diversify for the first time, or for businesses who have already diversified, but want to take their operation to the next level."

For this new round of funding, the minimum grant level has been reduced from £35,000 to £20,000 with the aim of helping smaller businesses to access the money.

"Given grants typically fund up to 40pc of a project, this means that the total cost of a project must be at least £50,000," said Mr Cantrill. "However, the food processing option is the exception to the rule, which has a maximum grant of £750,000 with 20pc of eligible costs covered, depending on the goods your business produces."

Andrew Spinks, an agricultural business consultant at the Norwich office of Brown and Co, added: "The growth program is a great opportunity to give added momentum to exciting projects in business development, food processing and rural tourism.

"Key to success is making sure that you align closely to the requirements of the grant and you clearly communicate this to the assessors and have a good relationship with them to facilitate constructive conversation which leads to success."

- Full details on the Growth Programme and how to apply can be found at the GOV.UK website.

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