East Anglian farmers urged to cash in on Defra’s £40m Countryside Productivity Scheme

Cows at the robotic milking parlour at Manor Farm in Fundenhall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Cows at the robotic milking parlour at Manor Farm in Fundenhall. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

East Anglian farmers and food processors have been urged to claim a share of a £40m government grants scheme aimed at funding investment in cutting-edge technology and new equipment.

Environment secretary Michael Gove launched the Countryside Productivity Scheme earlier this week, which aims to help livestock, dairy, arable and horticultural enterprises improve their efficiency by incorporating measures ranging from robotic milking machines to renewable energy.

It could also help farmers and food processors to invest in new equipment and machinery to improve the processing of meat, milk and fruit.

Grants of between £35,000 and £1m, representing 40pc of the project costs, are available under two separate funding streams: 'Improving Farm Productivity' and 'Adding Value to Agri-food'.

Michael Mack, a Norwich-based food and farming consultant for property agency Savills, said the scheme represented both an opportunity and a challenge.

'With Brexit on the horizon, many farm businesses want to increase productivity, efficiency and add value to the food they produce,' he said. 'The release of funding through the Countryside Productivity Scheme could make a big difference to their future so it's very important that farmers check suitability and plan their projects carefully to make the most of the help that's now available.'

Mr Mack said it was essential for farmers to read the full Defra rules and priorities before staring an application.

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'For example, if you are thinking about a grain processing or storage scheme you have to apply as a cooperative or group of farmers not as an individual,,' he said.

'All approvals such as planning permission have to be in place, otherwise the project is likely to be turned down before it has even been assessed.

'Finally, funding will not be approved if the scheme has already been started. If you need to press on with your project, then these grants may not be for you.'

Jason Cantrill, farm consultant in the Norwich office of Strutt and Parker, advised farmers to act quickly. He said: 'The part of the scheme relating to improving farm productivity is a valuable opportunity for farmers to access grant funding which will help them to build stronger and more sustainable businesses.

'However, farmers need to be aware that the number of grants that are awarded could be relatively limited as the minimum value of any grant is £35,000 and some grants could be offered that are worth up to £1m.

'Although the final deadline for applications is not until 3 December 2018, Defra has announced it is a single-stage application process with a decision on whether an application has been successful, or not, offered within 60 working days.

'This suggests it would be advisable for farmers to put in their applications sooner, rather than later, as funds may be more limited later next year.'

Richard Rampton, founder of Anglia Rural Consultants (ARC) said: 'This is a fantastic opportunity which should be grasped with both hands.

'There is huge scope for the grants to provide a wide range of investments. They could help provide cutting-edge technology to reduce costs, buildings for processing, or storage facilities.

'These are uncertain times. That's why we feel it is so important for farmers, food processors and growers to secure this significant funding.'

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