Reminder on Farm Business Improvement scheme

Magherafelt Advice Service provided free advice on a range of issues including benefits
Magherafelt Advice Service provided free advice on a range of issues including benefits

The deadline of 16th December 2016 for Tier 1 of the Farm Business Investment Scheme applications is fast approaching and the UFU are urging members interested in applying to the scheme to take action now to prepare for this.

Past experiences would show that many farmers leave the submission of grant applications to the last minute with the majority often coming in the last day.

Due to the requirement to obtain a letter from the bank and to complete the ‘Making it Safer’ online assessment, this isn’t a sensible approach as potential applicants need to give themselves time to get these elements organised, uploaded and sent in.

Some banks will issue letters over the counter, others may take longer therefore if applying for the scheme, farmers should approach their banks as soon as possible to ensure they have the letter available to them in time for the deadline.

While farmers can submit an application in paper, it is advisable to use the online system if at all possible. Applications will be scored against selection criteria one of which is online submission; 11 marks are available for those who submit online therefore it would be much better for applicants to use this method. The UFU recognises that in some rural areas access to broadband is prohibitive however, applicants can use computers in local libraries, DAERA Direct Offices and Rural Support Network Offices to complete the application online (staff however will not be able to assist with the actual application). Another advantage of using the online system is that it will allow all applications to be assessed quicker therefore potentially speeding up the issuing of Letters of Offer.

EU funding is only awarded to projects that would not go ahead if funding was not available therefore applicants must select the ‘not go ahead’ option under the ‘Need for EU Grant Support’ section/tab in the online application (question 3 on paper form).

The UFU is encouraging farmers to think carefully about the items they require before applying to the scheme and to consider the ‘banding’ of items. Farmers should only apply for items that they intend to purchase and that they really need. If an applicant is successful and accepts their Letter of Offer but later does not purchase all the items applied for, penalties could be imposed and could also affect future applications to the scheme as per EU rules. Each item listed in the scheme has been assessed against core themes for the Rural Development Programme and banded accordingly with band 1 being the highest. These bands will be used as a selection criterion and it is important to note that the lowest band applied for will determine the mark to be awarded against this criterion.

Within the application process farmers are also asked to rank the potential benefits that the funding could bring to the farm. There is a requirement to complete this section however this section does not affect the scoring of the application.

Despite the UFU lobbying for fencing to be included in the scheme, the Union is disappointed that it doesn’t go further in that this is limited to permanent electric fencing, double fencing at boundaries and for sub-dividing an existing grazing unit and that it falls under band 3.

This however will be useful for some farmers and they should read the specifications carefully to ensure that they are aware of the required conditions.

There is lots of useful information and guidance on the DAERA website and the UFU would advise members to read and consider it all carefully before submitting applications for this scheme.