From Grants to Growth: Securing Funding for Rural Business

Rural subsidies are complex. To help navigate them, we asked our rural business specialist Nick White to guide you in getting the funding your business needs.  With over 50 years of experience in the sector, Nick can provide expert advice on the challenges you’re facing.

Photograph of Nick White

Staying ahead as an agricultural business requires not just hard work, but also smart planning.  

Whether it’s investing in renewable energy solutions, introducing precision farming techniques, or adopting sustainable land management practices, grant funding can turn your innovative ideas into reality. 

However, accessing grants requires a measured approach. You’ll need to demonstrate a clear understanding of how your proposed project fits the goals outlined by the funding provider.  

You’ll also need to show the potential impact of your projects in terms of economic viability and environmental sustainability. Moreover, it’s important to think broadly and see the bigger picture. 

Many funding programmes now focus on sustainability. At a time when addressing environmental concerns is a top priority, initiatives that promote eco-friendly practices are being given significant support from government. You can read more about the Sustainable Farming Incentive here.  

To unlock this kind of funding, think about how you can use less productive parts of your land. For example, I know one farmer who is planting bird feed around the hedgerow borders of arable fields. Whilst this reduces available acreage, it doesn’t have a huge impact on the amount of productive land.  

Similarly, there is funding available for the creation of herbal leys, which easily fit into arable and mixed farming rotations. These can increase biodiversity and reduce the need for fertilisers.  These interventions may seem counter-productive in the short-term by limiting available land. However, with proper planning, they can be sensible investments in the long run.  

What funding is out there for my rural business?  

DEFRA has a useful break down of the nationwide grants and subsidies on offer – that’s available here. 

The Basic Farm Payment system (a legacy of EU funding) is moving to a more tailored approach. This means payment plans will be tailored to the needs of each farming business. Unlike the previous system, the new payments can be tweaked year-on-year. Therefore, you’ll be able to constantly reassess the changing needs of your business and access the necessary funding. The new payments will be quarterly, rather than annually, boosting cash flow throughout the year.  Read more about the new system here. 

There’s also plenty of local funding opportunities to explore. North Yorkshire Council’s Small Business Grants programme reopens for applications on 6 May. If you’re planning a diversification project, this £1m fund could be the scheme for you.  

My top tips for securing funding: 

  1. Make sure the funding you are applying for supports your medium-to-long term business strategy. Don’t just go for funding because it’s there – it may not take your business in the right direction. 
  2. For a farming business, make best use of the transition funding to replace the Basic Farm Payment. Allow for any possible reduction in production as a consequence.  
  3. Sometimes, quality can be better than quantity. Remember that reducing overall production isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If a new process allows greater efficiency or improved quality, you could make greater profits by selling at a higher price.  
  4. Don’t limit yourself to rural funding pots. Use non-agricultural funding sources, such as the Small Business Grant, to start a diversification project. Many farmers are supplementing their income by breaking out into the leisure and tourism sectors, with caravan sites and holiday lets, or selling direct to customers through small farm shops and milk vending machines. The Growth Hub can offer advice on setting up a food and drink business, digital marketing and more.  
  5. Explore sustainability projects. Sustainability funding to help reduce energy costs, lower your carbon footprint and move towards Net Zero. For example, you could begin solar energy production on-farm, or install an anaerobic digester to produce energy and fertiliser.  
  6. Remember to think long-term. Funding providers will want to see sustained benefits to the environment through lower carbon emissions and increased biodiversity. When it comes to diversification, think about how much you want to invest. Bear in mind that if your diversified income stream ends up bringing more in than your farming business, this can cause unintended consequences, including losing out on tax exemptions and subsidies. 

What difference can this funding make for your rural business? 

Researching and applying for funding can take up time in your busy workload, but it’s important to make time to do this. Due diligence can make the difference between profit and loss. 

Sometimes, the process of researching and applying for funding can act as a catalyst for the change your business needs. It allows you to take a new look at your business and achieve a better balance. 

It can also open up new opportunities. You could end up introducing new sources of income which will make your business more resilient in the face of future challenges.

How can rural businesses access support with funding? 

Here at the York and North Yorkshire Growth Hub, we offer free, personalised support to businesses. 

Our team of expert advisers can help with developing your business, assist with understanding application processes, and help you access any other support that might be available. 

If you want to discuss how we can help, why not get in touch.