A new awards scheme has been launched to celebrate the people who drive Norfolk's valuable countryside economy.

Norfolk County Council and the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) have joined forces to promote the Norfolk Rural Business Awards.

The awards were launched this week by the Lord-Lieutenant for Norfolk, the Lady Dannatt, at the Norfolk Farming Conference at the county's showground.

She said the aim was to "celebrate and champion" the many different contributors to a successful rural economy.

"There is an aspiration that these awards will become a highlight of the rural Norfolk year, with success viewed as a prestigious, sought-after accolade," she said.

"From the farmer accessing the latest agri-tech and sharing the learning, to the inspiring young person making waves, let's give Norfolk the chance to celebrate them as they hold their crown for a year."

Agriculture, forestry and fishing is the fourth largest sector in Norfolk, accounting for an estimated 8pc of all businesses - with many other businesses closely linked to the sector including those in accommodation, retail, food science, technology and engineering.

Fabian Eagle, Norfolk's cabinet member for economic development, said: "The contribution that rural businesses and communities make to the lives of everyone in our county is not to be underestimated.

"We look forward to putting the spotlight on some of our most hardworking residents and organisations.”

The nine award categories are: Best Rural Community Initiative; Best Farming Innovation Adopter; Best Food Producer; Norfolk’s Unsung Hero; Best Drink Maker; Best Farming Champion; Best Emerging Talent; Best High Growth Business; Best Sustainable Land Use / Farming Exemplar.

RNAA managing director Mark Nicholas said: "Each category will have a specialist judging panel who will visit shortlisted businesses before making their final decision.

"Some categories lend themselves to direct applications while others focus on nominations or a combination of both."

Entry/nomination forms can be found online at www.norfolk.gov.uk/business/norfolk-rural-business-awards.

The entry deadline is 19 April and the winners will be announced at the Royal Norfolk Show in June.