Defra announces new £15m new technology grants for farmers as pledge sought for Yorkshire's leading agri-science

A new multi-million pounds funding package giving farmers access to transformative new technology must lead to a firm financial commitment to ensure the potential of Yorkshire’s “world-beating” agricultural science community is not squandered, the industry has warned.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has today announced that the second round of its Countryside Productivity Small Grants scheme is now open for applications. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Yorkshire Post can exclusively reveal that farmers across the country can, from today, apply for a share of £15m to help them invest in new, innovative technology. The announcement comes as farming increasingly faces up to the daunting challenges of feeding an increasing population while coping with the effects of climate change.

A second round of funding as part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Countryside Productivity Small Grants scheme is now open for applications, with the department also committing to a further £15m investment under the scheme in 2020, regardless of the outcome of Brexit.

Farming Minister Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, who was due to visit the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate today but cancelled due to a parliamentary vote on Northern Ireland legislation, said the funding gives farmers access to equipment that can deliver “quick and tangible improvements”.

The Minister, whose show visit will now take place on Thursday, said: “This isn’t just about increasing yields; it’s also about using the best tools and equipment that can improve animal welfare and the environment, such as monitoring the levels of nitrogen in crops.

“As we leave the EU we want more farmers to be able to invest in this kind of technology that can boost the bottom line and make a real difference.”

Grants worth between £3,000 and £12,000 are available to farmers. It follows a first wave of funding last year.

The National Farmers’ Union said it was “frustrating” for farmers that the new round of funding had only just been announced, saying it had been promised in early 2019.

NFU deputy president Guy Smith said: “It has been a frustrating few months for NFU members due to the delays in opening the application window for round two of the small grants scheme that was promised in early 2019.

“This scheme has always been popular and is likely to be once again. That’s why it is important for farmers who are applying to read the guidance carefully – from end to end. Understanding how it works and getting up to speed with the detail at the initial application phase will help avoid delays and disappointment later.

“We have been liaising closely with Defra and the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to make improvements and are pleased that the list of equipment available for farmers to invest in, such as GPS systems for precision farming, has increased.

“Schemes like this are hugely valuable because they help boost productivity, while maintaining the same level of inputs. This then creates the margin that enables farmers to re-invest in their businesses.”

The new funding round must now be built upon with a commitment to future funding for the burgeoning agricultural science sector, the NFU will say at today's Great Yorkshire Show.

Much of the sector’s existing agri-science funds - £24m of which went to Yorkshire’s agricultural research scientists in the 12 months to April - comes from European research programmes that may not be accessible post-Brexit.

Speaking at the show, Minette Batters, the union’s president, will say the next 30 years are “the most important in the history of global agriculture”, with farmers needing to produce up to 100 per cent more food, using less land, less water and fewer chemicals.

“Combine that with the challenges of climate change and it’s easy to see that science must be at the heart of our response,” she will say.

The union boss will praise Yorkshire’s research community for its potential to “significantly stack the odds in our favour” as farming strives to meet an ambitious industry target to be net zero in emissions by 2040.

Yorkshire has two national ‘agri-tech’ centres, one for crop health and livestock, and other specialist institutes, which make the county “a lead region in the UK”, Mrs Batters will say, adding: “We need government to help us create the right economic and commercial conditions for scientists and farmers alike to flourish.”

A Defra spokeswoman said the Government will use Brexit to put the UK “at the forefront of agricultural innovation”.

“We intend to support farmers to improve their productivity where this will be done sustainably and in a way that improves our air, water, soil and biodiversity,” the spokeswoman said.

Scheme has been extended

Grants under the new round of funding announced today are available for all farm types, including livestock, horticulture and arable businesses, Defra said.

Following last year’s scheme, 26 new items have been added to the list of equipment farmers can seek funds towards, including chlorophyll meters, which instantly measure chlorophyll content of a plant leaf, and portable ammonia analysers to check ammonia levels in farm buildings.

Grants can support up to 40 per cent of the eligible cost of an item, or up to 50 per cent for farmers based in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Rural businesses have eight weeks to submit an application.