With dairy farmers striving to increase efficiency in order to bring costs down, a number of grant schemes are available to help finance investment in improvements. Mark Wheeler, senior consultant with Promar, explains.
Despite the massive changes to Farm Payments, there is still a sizeable pool of grant funding available to assist in the financing of improvements aimed at improving efficiency, health and welfare.
The scope of the Rural Development Programme has been widened and more funds are now available to finance broader rural development.
However, the application procedure is not always straightforward.
The new Stewardship Scheme, which has been perceived as more complicated and onerous than those it replaces, appears to have seen poor uptake.
The upshot is a recent NFU survey showed only 50% of members were considering applying for the scheme with 44% being unsure about filling in the application form.
On a positive note, there are currently two schemes which should be considered by farmers looking to invest to improve efficiency which have a total of £280 million available until 2020.
The Countryside Productivity Scheme is expected to continue to focus on improving animal health and welfare and managing resources including water and fertiliser. Grants will be awarded up to 40% of project costs with an upper grant limit of £35,000 on small projects, with larger projects also considered.
Although the scheme is temporarily closed to new applications, it is expected to reopen shortly. Grants are expected to be considered for schemes using technology to improve herd health and productivity. This is a catch-all definition but specific activities previously identified as eligible include automated lameness detection, rumination monitoring, calving detectors, heat detection activity monitors and LED lighting for housing. The other option is the LEADER scheme. This comes under Local Action Group (LAG) funding, which provides funding for a wide range of activities in rural areas. A stated aim is 70% of funds directly support jobs and growth with increasing farm productivity a highlighted area. The unique feature of this funding is that it is administered through LAG groups so the first stage is to identify your local group and to work through them.
Whichever scheme is considered, chances of success will be improved by getting professional help with the assessment of eligibility and the actual application form. The devil is, as usual, in the detail and it is vital to plan well ahead. The more that is in place at an early stage and the more of the assessment criteria your project meets, the greater the chances of success.