DEFRA farming minister George Eustice said the money will help “unlock the huge potential for growth in the countryside.”

DEFRA says rural festivals such as Wilderness and farm shops in the South Downs are among a range of rural businesses in the region which are encouraged to apply for the grants from 28 August. This new funding will provide a real boost for the rural economy in the South East and communities across the country.

With farms the fastest growing tourist attraction in 2014, DEFRA claims the grants are an “important opportunity” for dairy farmers trying to diversify their businesses and encourage tourism, as well as expanding milk and cheese processing units.
The funding is part of the £3.5 billion spending on rural areas between 2014 and 2020 as part of the rural development programme (RDP) agreed during the last reform of the common agricultural policy.

Known as the growth programme, this part of the RDP will spend £177 million over the six years. This summer, £24 million of that £177 million will be allocated: £6.3 million was made available in July, £8 million is the subject of DEFRA’s current announcement and £9.7 million will be announced at the end of September.

Grants under the programme are available for business development, food processing, small scale tourism infrastructure and tourism cooperation. Individual grants are worth upwards of £35,000 depending on the individual project and will be offered in local enterprise partnership (LEP) areas.

The Rural Payments Agency will publish calls for applications on the growth programme page of the website. There is currently a call for tourism applications in rural areas around Brighton and Hove, Croydon, the Gatwick Diamond, Lewes and West Sussex which was published on 27 July. The call specifies “investment in local cooperation initiatives which improve the rural tourism offer in the Coast to Capital LEP area.” Grants from £35,000 up to £80,000 will be available, depending on the state aid already received. The deadline for applications is 30 October.

Anyone who has not already done so will need to register on the rural payments website before they can submit an application. Applicants will then need to complete an outline application, and the RPA will be in touch if they are successful.

The growth programme is one of three schemes for which a total of £450 million is available between 2014 and 2020. The other two are LEADER and the countryside productivity scheme (CPS). The CPS is run by the RPA and is available for projects such as improving water management and slurry application systems. A grant may cover up to 40% of the total eligible costs of the project. There are two types of grants: small grants and large grants: for small grants, funding of between £2,500 and £35,000 is available. One small grant can be used to apply for a range of small grant items.

For large grants, funding of between £35,000 and £1 million is available. Applicants can apply for a mix of large grant items in one application. Applications can only be for large grant items or small grant items – not a mix of both. The CPS is currently closed while the RPA assesses applications received in the last round.

Applications for the new LEADER programme are supposed to open this month (September). Anyone interested has to make an expression of interest to their local action group. Projects may be funded at up to 40% of the cost with a maximum grant of £50,000.

Picture: Farming minister George Eustice and Conservative Cllr Kevin Beaty meet NFU Council member Thomas Binns on-farm in Lancashire. Photo: NFU

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