Waiting time could be up already for those in for Tier 1, as Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) today announced that letters of offer will soon be on the way.

Almost 3,000 applications were received for the second tranche of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme – Capital (FBIS-C). It's around double the number of projects expected to be approved.

The Tier 1 grant is designed to support small-scale investments that will improve the sustainability of farm businesses through the purchase of equipment and machinery, costing from £5,000 to £30,000 (€5,600 to €34,000), from a list of eligible items.

Letters of offer will continue to issue over the coming weeks to eligible applicants, commencing with those receiving the highest score until the available budget is fully allocated.

Farmers that receive a letter of offer should read it carefully and - if prepared to accept the terms and conditions of the scheme - must complete and return their Form of Acceptance to Countryside Services within 28 days.

£7.5 million scheme

A DAERA spokesman said: “We welcome the high proportion of applications received online – some 99.5% of all applications.

"This has meant that letters of offer to this small grant scheme have started to issue within six weeks of the scheme closing for applications.

“Following on from the success of the first tranche, this second tranche of Tier 1 - with a budget of £7.5 million (€8.5 million) - will be a welcome boost to the farming sector with a positive knock-on effect for many local agricultural and horticultural supply businesses.”

Letters of offer

The spokesman advised farmers should carefully follow the scheme rules as set out in their letter of offer.

Farmers are reminded that they must only purchase the items as set out in the project schedule in the letter of offer and that all items for which a grant has been awarded must be purchased.

If these key requirements are not met, then financial reductions and penalties may be imposed on any claim.

Successful farmers have four months from the date of the letter of offer to complete their purchases and submit their claim.

Tier 2

Meanwhile, the wait is still on for those involved in the widely-criticised Tier 2 scheme, the larger half of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme.

As of February 21 - almost one year on from the scheme's closing date - figures obtained by AgriLand revealed more than 120 farmers were still waiting for a decision on their application.

Speaking at the time, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president Ivor Ferguson said the organisation had been “inundated with calls” asking for updates on the issue.

A department spokesman said the number of projects approved is “steadily increasing”.