DARD has this week launched a survey called the Whole Farm Needs Assessment (WFNA) to help them assess the type and level of government support needed by farmers to meet their business objectives and will aid design of DARD’s proposed Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS).
Completing this WFNA survey will also help farmers prepare for any future application process as it will give them an opportunity to assess their business needs and to make a plan for farm improvement projects in advance of any scheme opening.
The Farm Business Improvement Scheme is part of the NI Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 and was a key recommendation of the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s Going for Growth Report.
Up to £250 million has been allocated to this overarching scheme over the NIRDP funding period and it is made up of a number of different schemes that primarily aim to improve competitiveness of farm businesses and includes support for training, innovation, knowledge transfer and capital investment.
While the outline shape of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme and it’s various schemes will largely be dictated by the EU Rural Development Regulation, DARD are hoping that this Whole Farm Needs Assessment exercise will help them to more accurately assess the need and demand for support and to help better inform and design the detail around the proposed FBIS.
One of the key elements of the proposed Farm Business Improvement Scheme is a Farm Business Investment Scheme which will be a capital grants scheme of potentially up to £200m for equipment and construction type projects. This element is seen to be particularly important for local farms and there has been considerable interest in this already.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union see the Whole Farm Needs Assessment as a vital exercise for both farmers planning to invest in the future and for DARD and are encouraging all farmers who are genuinely considering investments in their businesses over the next few years to complete the survey.
The WFNA is not an application for funding and will not affect any future applications for funding but it will help farmers to think about what future support might be available and help them to start planning potential projects by considering their own needs and then issues such as finance, business plans and planning permission which are likely to be key requirements before any future applications for capital grants can be progressed.
The survey has been tested through farmer focus groups and is not particularly onerous and should not take long to complete but has been shown to be a very useful and positive exercise for both farmers and DARD.
While the development of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme is progressing and this WFNA will help to further develop schemes, it is important to note that approval for the scheme through the NIRDP is still required from the EC and a business case will have to be approved by the Department of Finance.
However, it is hoped that both are formalities and that the Farm Business Improvement Scheme will be able to be rolled out later on this year.
The WFNA survey can be found at www.dardni.gov.uk and must be completed and returned to DARD by 3rd April 2015.