New funding opportunity for GPS and other green projects

Farmers wanting to invest in precision guidance systems, improve their nutrient or water management or purchase energy-efficient technology will soon be able to apply for grant funding to help their projects become a reality.

DEFRA has announced that a third round of the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme will run from 4th February to 4th April 2014, says Charlie Mack, an agricultural business consultant at Brown & Co.

“Like previous rounds the latest round is expected to cover a range of green projects including the purchase of new machinery enabling environmentally friendly growth of a farm business,” he explains.

“Farmers, landowners and contractors may all be eligible as previously. The grants are for capital items and are paid at a rate of up to 40% in lowland areas and up to 50% in upland areas. The maximum grant allowance for any projects, cumulatively per business, over this period is £35,000. There is a minimum individual grant claim of £2,500, equating to a minimum project spend of £6,250. Applicants from previous rounds are also invited to apply and any funding received will not count against this round.”

Grants are run on a competitive basis and applicants making the stronger cases are likely to improve their chances of securing funds, says Mr Mack. “In previous rounds we applied on behalf of significant numbers of clients with a near 100% record of success.”

Brown & Co provides a comprehensive service from establishing which projects are eligible through to advising on feasibility and the application process. Precision farming guidance systems accounted for the bulk of applications made by the company in the first two rounds, says Mr Mack.

“Adding satellite guidance adds many benefits to a farming system, such as more accurate tramlining, less wear and tear on machinery, less overworking of soils and improved speed of operation. On top of this it can significantly reduce bills for expensive inputs such as seed, fertilisers, sprays and fuel while benefitting the environment.

“This technology does come at a significant cost. When deciding whether satellite guidance is appropriate for your farm, it is important to consider not only the potential savings and environmental benefits, but also the funding.”

William Barber of Newcome-Baker Farms, near Hunstanton, Norfolk, applied in spring 2012 for a retro-fit satellite steering system and an RTK mast to be shared with a neighbour.

“I was unaware of the scheme until the issue was raised by Charles Whitaker of Brown & Co at a meeting,” says Mr Barber. “We went on to use Brown & Co because they had a very high success rate. They were very helpful and made the process easy – it took about an hour to fill in a computerised form.”

He received the full application grant for both mast and system, which together cost about £25,000. “As well as the obvious – less fuel, time and wear and tear – we have gone onto a variable rate spreading system for P, K and Mg fertiliser (PK and Mg) which allows us to use these nutrients in a ‘smarter’ fashion.

“The system also means the men are less tired at the end of a long day as they don’t have to concentrate so long especially on jobs like sugar beet drilling. That brings safety benefits, too.”

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