The Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme offers farmers and food producers the opportunity of developing a new project idea in collaboration with others in their supply chain. £30,500 of support along with 50 days Facilitation is available under the scheme to help progress the project as well as enriching each group member’s skill set.
Support measures include Specialist Mentoring, Training, Business Tools, Study Tours and Co-operation Support.
Mandina Fulton from Countryside Services Ltd, who is managing the scheme on behalf of DAERA explains “We have active groups availing of the Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme from a diverse range of producers – from artisan food businesses located in rural or coastal regions wishing to collectively market their goods – to groups of farmers getting together to further a novel idea which will aid their supply of product to current or new markets.”
The scheme is open to producers in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, and with increasing popularity of Food tourism & Artisans in NI, this sector is also a welcome inclusion under the scheme. With the help of a Facilitator each group will have a business plan produced and can brain-storm their ideas in a group setting before applying for support measures which best suit their project requirements. This can be improving their skills through training or study tours, or being able to increase the profile of the group with the aid of a marketing plan, promotional material and logo design.
Mandina continues “The scheme recognises that small businesses in the agri-food supply chain can often have difficulty finding time to identify the expertise and resources necessary to progress joint initiatives. The Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme will give like-minded producers the opportunity to work together to explore ways of improving returns from the supply chain.”
One group currently availing of support from the scheme is the The NI Soft Fruit Growers, which combines three separate fruit growers from the Mid Ulster area into a collaborative supply chain that supports best practise techniques and joint product offering to the market. One of the participating members in the group, Peter Donnelly, focuses his business on growing high quality strawberries for both the local and national market.
Peter explains the benefits to his group: “The Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme has made a real tangible difference to both my farm and to the other growers. By coming together as a collective, we have been able to utilise the programme in a number of ways, such as in depth international and best practice training to improve the yield and quality of our produce. This has allowed us to keep pace with larger growers on quality and investment. We have also benefited by gaining additional accreditation for the group with funding provided for the Red Tractor scheme, which allows us to deal with much larger buying organisations, and in turn making our individual businesses much more sustainable in the long term. Without the support from the Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme & the scheme Facilitator, none of this would have been achieved and certainly not at the same speed and efficiency if we were to do it individually”.
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