Opportunities for rural businesses

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The Northern Ireland Rural Development Programme (NIRDP) 2014-2020 is worth in total around up to £623 million made up of approximately £186.5 million of EU money and £186.5m from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

The NI Executive had also agreed to provide additional funding of up to £250 million to fund the Farm Business Improvement Scheme which is the overarching scheme made up of a number of different measures including the Farm Business Improvement Scheme - Capital, Business Development Groups, Farm Family Key Skills etc.

The NIRDP funds measures under the competitiveness, environmental and wider rural economy themes. While most farmers will be aware of the measures funded under the competitiveness and environmental headings, the wider rural measures may be less familiar. The wider rural measures are funded through Local Action Groups (LAGS) based in rural Council areas. There are 10 LAGS in Northern Ireland which are all controlled by a Board made up of social partners (including farmers) and local councillors. One of the measures funded through the LAGs is the Rural Business Investment Scheme (RBIS). The scheme provides support for the creation of micro and small enterprises (including farm diversification and some tourism businesses). All businesses applying will require a business plan to support their application.

There is funding available for capital works or for bespoke training and marketing and is available to those based in rural areas and in towns with populations of less than 5000 (the LAG can extend this to include towns with a population of up to 10,000 where need and benefit is proven). Any investment provided must be for non-agricultural activities with a focus on creating new jobs.

This could be an activity which is new for an existing business or a new business start up. There is a list of the types of activity that might be supported on the DAERA website and also a list of costs that are eligible. https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/publications/rural-business-investment-scheme.

The minimum grant available is £5000 up to a potential maximum of £90,000 (depending on the size of the business). Technical assistance support will be available up to 50% at a maximum of £5,000. Marketing will be paid up to £5,000 and website development to encourage e-commerce/on-line trading will be paid up to £10,000. Bespoke training will be paid up to maximum grant of £5,000.

Any farmer who may be interested in diversifying their farm into a non-agricultural activity should consider this funding.

Each Local Action Group will open a call for applications independently therefore it depends on where the business is located (Council area) as to when the funding could be available. Part of the funding process requires anyone interested in applying to attend a mandatory workshop which are held in local areas. The ten LAGs all have their own websites which outline details around application windows and workshop dates.

Information on various aspects and funding measures of the NIRDP, including the Rural Business Investment Scheme, are available on the Rural Network website www.ruralnetworkni.org.uk, if you sign up you can receive email notifications of any funding schemes that are opening.