RURAL businesses have until the end of the month to apply for the first round of funding from a major new grant scheme.
The Rural Economy Grant is aimed at helping farmers and rural entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses.
Rural English businesses will competitively bid for grants which could be worth more than £1 million each, to benefit from the new £60 million scheme.
Successful applicants will receive up to 40% funding in five key areas. They are:
* Farm competiveness
* Rural tourism
* Micro enterprise support (businesses with fewer than 10 employees).
The first round of funding closes at the end of April.
Roger Moore, of business consultants Rural Renaissance, said the grant offered wealth of opportunities.
Some companies may utilise the grant to help purchase new processing or packing equipment, allowing them to target new markets.
Other rural businesses may look to new opportunities in tourist accommodation and visitor activities.
Meanwhile, farmers would be able to apply for grants to improve animal health and welfare, as well as soil nutrients and water management.
"The true extent of possibilities can sometimes be difficult to imagine by people involved with their businesses on a day-to-day basis," said Mr Moore.
"The grant provides a great incentive, but at least 60% of monies will need to be found privately so a whole funding approach is required for all applications".
It had been six years since the government last offered grants on a national basis, specifically for new rural business start-ups and diversification projects.
"The race is now on, to put together business plans and submit applications during the next two months," suggested Mr Moore.
For details of how to apply, click here.
DEFRA has already allocated £20 million to the Farming and Forestry Scheme and the £20 million Skills and Knowledge Transfer Network.
The Rural Growth Network pilot project will help rural areas overcome barriers to growth including provision of superfast broadband.
Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.