Minister announces first phase of FBIS

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill adresses guests at the gala dinner of the North American-European Union Agricultural Policy Congress 2015 at the Titanic building in Belfast.  Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill adresses guests at the gala dinner of the North American-European Union Agricultural Policy Congress 2015 at the Titanic building in Belfast. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
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The first phase of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS) will open on Monday 9 November 2015, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has announced.

This phase will focus on Knowledge Transfer, delivered through Business Development Groups (BDG) and is funded through the new Rural Development Programme, part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Applications must be submitted before 4pm on Monday 14 December 2015.

Launching the BDG scheme, Minister O’Neill said: “I am delighted to be launching the first phase of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme, funded with £28million under the new Rural Development Programme.

“The Farm Business Improvement Scheme is a key recommendation within the Going for Growth Report. Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in delivering on DARD’s commitment to supporting the industry aspirations set out in the report and playing our part in securing a sustainable and profitable farm base. I would encourage farmers to apply to the programme as local development groups are designed to help farmers come together with their peers, to learn about and enhance their knowledge of business management, new technologies and innovative ways of working.

“In these challenging times, this new programme will assist farmers in acquiring the skills necessary to help make the right decisions about their businesses for the future.”

Farmers who participate in the BDG scheme will be required to attend several training events each year, be willing to undertake physical and financial benchmarking, share their farm performance information with other group members and be willing to host a visit for the group, during which members will discuss technical performance and progress towards meeting business objectives. As farmers work towards meeting their business objectives, they will have the opportunity to accredit their work and gain a Level 3 qualification.

Tony O'Neill.

Tony O'Neill.

Up to 160 Business Development Groups could be established, each with between 15 and 20 farmers.

The programme will meet costs incurred by the farmer – eligible claims will include replacement labour while they are attending training events, travel to and from training events and initial costs associated with analytical services. Where farmers attend all eight training events they will qualify for a payment of up to £490 per year.

This payment is planned for the first two years of the programme and will then be reviewed. An allowance of up to £600 per visit for hosting a training event will also be payable, however this payment will be available to farmers throughout the lifetime of the scheme.

Significantly, DARD has confirmed that membership of a discussion group will not be a prerequisite in terms of farmer eligibility for the forthcoming capital grant scheme, which will also be funded under the new Rural Development Programme.

UFU deputy president Barclay Bell welcomed this development.

“This is the first stage of DARD’s farm business improvement scheme. It is an excellent use of rural development funds, delivering benefits for both farmers and the environment by helping farmers develop plans to guide farm businesses, which in turn will lead to improved efficiency and profitability,” he said.

The UFU is encouraging members to apply to the scheme, describing it as a great opportunity to learn from fellow farmers by sharing ideas and improving skills in business management, new technologies and innovative ways of working.

“Participating farmers will have the opportunity to undertake benchmarking. This will allow them to gain an understanding of how their on-farm and financial performance compares to others. It is a fantastic way for like-minded farmers to discuss technical performance and progress towards meeting targets,” Mr Bell added.

AFSB Chair Tony O’Neill also welcomed the news that the Business Development Groups will soon be open for applications.

“We welcome the announcement of the launch of the Business Development Groups. This is the first piece in the jigsaw of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme which the AFSB called for to develop sustainable growth across the agri-food sector.

“This represents significant progress against some of the key recommendations outlined in Going for Growth and will directly benefit primary producers.”

He added: “I would encourage all farmers who are interested in increasing their productivity and efficiency to register their interest in this scheme.”