A grant scheme worth almost £900,000 (€1.06m), aimed at stimulating innovation in the agri-food industry, has re-opened in Northern Ireland.

The announcement to re-open the Research Challenge Fund (RCF) scheme was recently made by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

Aimed at Small-to-Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs), the RCF provides funding for industry-led collaborative research projects.

It is hoped these projects will have the potential to further the sustainability and competitiveness of agri-food and rural enterprises in the North.

The RCF was first launched in 2010. So far, 19 projects have benefited from close to £2.3m (€2.7m) in grant aid.

RCF supports the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s 'Going for Growth' report, which recommends making support for research and innovation a priority, according to DAERA.

For businesses that want to get involved in research and development projects, which will start in 2018, the RCF offers support to help cover up to 50% of eligible research and development costs.

Under the scheme these costs will be capped at a maximum of £250,000 (€295,600) per application.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2017 fund, with up to £877,000 (€1.03m) available for what is the fifth tranche of the scheme.

The deadline for applications is set to close on Friday, May 26, at 5pm, while it is hoped that successful projects will then commence from January 1, 2018.

An information awareness session on the grant scheme is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, March 22 at 10am in the Conference Hall, Greenmount Campus, CAFRE.

Environmental Farming Scheme

DAERA also recently announced that online applications to the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS) in the North are scheduled to open on Monday, February 27.

The EFS is the department's new agri-environment scheme, under the North’s Rural Development Programme.

Designed to address specific environmental needs, primarily relating to biodiversity and water quality, it is hoped that the scheme will be more targeted and focused than previous schemes.