COLLABORATION, co-operation and cross body working are normally terms one would associate with politicians rather than local farmers.
However, a recent trip to the Focus Farm of Eoin McCambridge in Ballycastle by farmers, DARD Rural Enterprise Advisors, Axis 3 LAG (Local Action Group) members and Rural Development staff demonstrated that our leading producers can show our politicians a thing or two when it comes to working on a joined up basis.
As a Focus Farmer specialising in the renewable sector Eoin regularly receives groups who are interested in viewing the hydro electric scheme and willow bio-mass product which make his farm unique.
The Focus Farms’ initiative is funded under Axis 1 of the Rural Development Programme. It aims to contribute to the creation of a more competitive agriculture industry through the provision of farmer-led training to farmers.
As the Focus Farm Liaison Manager Eamonn Matthews, who also took part in the visit, confirmed: “The Focus Farm Centre was approached several times by members of LAGs, who are responsible for delivery of funding towards Renewable Energy Schemes, to check if they were able to visit an operational site, as this would enable them to be much more informed when making decisions when allocating funding and assessing potential projects.”
Funding for renewable project schemes is available as farm diversification projects. Applicants are eligible for grants of up to £50,000. So it would be extremely beneficial for those farmers who are looking at a potential site to visit Eoin’s Focus Farm to view an operational hydro site and to participate in a highly informed discussion with other like minded individuals.
Eamonn continued: “As part of the Focus Farm programme each host farmer is able to offer a follow up mentoring service to farmers who have visited the farm and have further questions or queries or for farmers who are unable to come to the farm but wish to discuss any relevant issues which pertain to their own situation or farming operation.”
The recent visit, hosted by Eoin, was attended by representatives from Countryside Services Limited, who deliver a range of farm specific programmes, such as Family Farm Mentoring and Supply Chain Development plus farming representatives of Axis 3 LAGS including, North East Region, South Antrim and Down Area Partnership, as well as interested farmers from the Lagan area and staff from these Local Action Groups.
“This level of inter axis working has proven to be highly beneficial for all parties as farmers are more informed when coming to make a decision about their potential renewable energy scheme,” Eamonn further explained.
“It also offered them the opportunity to discuss their project with Cluster staff. These staff and LAG members were able to identify issues that may arise during the assessment phase and having viewed the scheme in operation meant that they are much more conversant in what the farmers are proposing and presenting for assessment. They can then make informed decisions when allocating funding to farm diversification projects.
“A further visit to Eoins Focus Farm is planned for mid September in conjunction with a visit to Watertop Farm, which is a local Focus Farm demonstrating Farm Diversification projects. This trip is being organised by Claire Anderson (DARD Rural Enterprise Advisor) in unison with Focus Farmers Patsy McBride and Eoin McCambridge. It is anticipated that farmers who have applied for funding or are proposing to establish a farm diversification project would be keen to participate in this visit to view two farms that have a proven track record in farm diversification and renewable schemes.”
He concluded: “It is hoped that this level of Inter axis working shall continue to be a feature of the Rural Development Programme. As it involves the various clusters and LAGs in Axis 3 along with their Focus Farm counterparts in Axis 1, the sole winner every time will be producers the length and breadth of Northern Ireland, for whom the programme is designed to assist.”
Focus Farm visits are open to anyone over 16 years of age with a valid Farm business ID.
There are 59 Focus Farms throughout NI operating a range of enterprises; including Dairy, Beef, Sheep, Pigs, Crops, Horticulture, Renewables, Diversification, Organic and Environmental.
For further details or to arrange a visit contact the Focus Farm Centre at 0845 026 7536 or alternatively email: firstname.lastname@example.org