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The Future of Grant Funding

A plethora of new grant-funded schemes under the new Rural Development Programme will be available in England from January 2015. Mark Wheeler, an agricultural business consultant based in our Spalding office, looks at what will be available.

The Common Agricultural Policy has undergone a radical shake-up in recent years. Whereas payments were once firmly wedded to production, the emphasis has increasingly shifted to new decoupled payments to promote rural development and management of the countryside.

The growth of these so-called Pillar 2 payments continues in the latest round of CAP reform, resulting in a new Rural Development Programme (RDP), which will begin on 1 January 2015.

Over the next seven years it will invest £3.5bn in a range of schemes that will support three key areas:

  • Managing the environment
  • Increasing farming and forestry productivity
  • Growing the rural economy

The first of those will be taken care of by a single scheme, the New Environmental Land Management Scheme, which will account for £3.1bn of the RDP funding. It will replace the existing Environmental Stewardship and English Woodland Grant schemes so there will be no shortage of takers.

That leaves a considerable pot of money available for the second and third areas, which will be funded through the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). Final guidance on exactly what they entail and how to apply for funds is still awaited and is expected within the next few months.

We do know that funds to increase farming and forestry productivity amount to £140m over the seven-year life of the programme. This area has several aims, including:

  • lnnovation through the use of new technology and research
  • Improving skills and training
  • Greater co-operation between farmers and other, including agri-food businesses, in the land-based sectors
  • Supporting projects that benefit the environment
  • It will include a new scheme, the Farming and Forestry Production Scheme (FFPS), which will replace the Farm and Forestry Improvement Scheme (FFIS)

It is likely to be similar, consisting of small-scale grants targeted at quite specific areas that can generally deliver very strong returns to the business employing them. These have included nutrient management (eg GPS technology to assist with nutrient application) as well as energy saving and water resource management. Under FFIS 40% grants in lowland areas and 50% in upland areas to a maximum of £35,000 were available.

Precision farming guidance systems accounted for the bulk of FFIS applications made by Brown & Co in the first two rounds, as the technology can bring significant environmental as well as economic benefits.

We were very proud of our record on FFIS (see table) with a near 100% record of success.

Results of FFIS 3 grants round* – Brown & Co
Theme No of jobs Positive results Total grant value Average grant value
Energy efficiency

3

3

£27,876

 
Nutrient management

48

48

£281,988

 
Water resource management

4

4

£92,804

 
Animal health and welfare

6

6

£37,151

 
Forestry

3

2

£19,720

 
Totals

64

63

£459,539

£7924

* Success rate 98.44%

Schemes to help grow the rural economy will be available through Local Enterprise Partnerships, which will target £177m at rural priorities such as:

  • Development of business knowledge and skills
  • Supporting small or micro-businesses
  • Investing in broadband and renewable energy
  • Promoting rural tourism 
  • Local action groups will have a further £138m to spend, through the LEADER approach, which will be available to farmers, foresters, other local businesses and rural communities. 

These significant pots of money represent a real opportunity and are available to all rural businesses. Themes will be much wider than the FFPS and not necessarily exclusively agriculturally related. LEP and LAGs are currently bidding for funds and shaping what projects they will support.

Good advice will be important to identify which scheme is most relevant to ensure efforts are focussed in the right area. Funding could be considered for a variety of projects, whether for capital items or for revenue support. Rural business needs to think laterally about what items and projects might be eligible and whether they can meet the criteria.

Anyone that has a project in mind is advised to prepare in good time. Grants are run on a competitive basis and applicants making the stronger cases are likely to improve their chances of securing funds.