Regional agencies' funding could boost horticulture sector

A £600m grants programme that could benefit the horticulture industry is being made available this month.

England's regional development agencies have received a cash injection from the EU and central government to improve competitiveness in farming and forestry.

Members of the horticulture industry are being given a chance to dip into the pot as businesses are encouraged to apply for investment in training, equipment and developing new markets.

The South East England Development Agency's Terry Bradfield, who is running the rural development programme in that region, said he was excited by the amount of money available and would be investing heavily in horticultural training. He said: "We've got some very specialised horticultural trainers in our area and we're aiming on having a small number of training contracts that will cover the whole region."

Bradfield added that potential applicants for the money might include fruit or vegetable growers looking to invest in the latest technology, a group of nurseries joining forces to start up their own processing chain, or speciality farmers hoping to open a farm shop.

The cash forms part of the £3.9bn Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) - £3.3bn of which is earmarked for agri-environment and other land management schemes, to be delivered through Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

Each regional development agency has a different allocation of money, funded jointly by the EU and the Government, for delivering the RDPE until 2013, and all are expected to open their programmes this month.

East Midlands' Development Agency's skills and communities director Andrew Morgan said he was delighted the scheme was up and running.

He explained: "The East Midlands has around 1.2 million people living and working in the countryside, and this funding will make a real difference to those communities."

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