A new scheme has opened up for groups of individuals or small businesses who would benefit from integration with other aspects of the agri-food chain.

The Agri-Food Co-operation Scheme helps with training, study tours, networking opportunities and other business tools, such as information systems, market intelligence, promotional material.

It will be run by Countryside Services on behalf of the NI Rural Development Program and DAERA.

Mandina Fulton, senior administrator at Countryside Services, explained: “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 businesses the opportunity to work together to explore ways of improving returns from the supply chain.”

Supporting new initiatives

Examples of this type of co-operation which were funded under the Supply Chain Development Programme – the forerunner of this new scheme – include groups of growers in the apple and pork industries.

They recognised the growth in artisan food products but did not have the expertise within their group to avail of this market opportunity.

The apple growers availed of the expertise of specialist mentors to help create a brand for their products and to produce marketing tools.

They recognised the tourism potential of the apple industry and created strategic linkages with the wider supply chain including cider producers, restaurants and hotels, to make the product the central focus of a tourism destination project, creating new markets and ultimately consumers of their products.

Local outlets then began to work with the growers as they had created a professional marketing campaign which they could all become part of.

Pig farmers

The scheme also helped a small group of farmers rearing outdoor pigs. They were operating on a small scale and needed business advice on how to upscale their production capacity in order to provide a steady supply for customers.

With the help of a mentor, they realised they would be targeting high-end restaurants and farm shops so their product required a premium price.

The scheme helped them to carry out a financial appraisal and put together a marketing strategy and was followed up with study tours to meet other high-end food producers.

Groups who wish to express interest or find further information should visit the Countryside Services website.