The View from Northern Ireland: Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland Minister Michelle O’Neill today highlighted research as a key component to enable the local agri-food sector to continue to grow.

The minister was speaking as the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Research Challenge Fund reopened, which provides funding for SMEs in the primary production sector to support research and development.

DARD manages the fund and will award grants of up to 50 per cent for assistance with research, with up to £750,000 sterling available in the fund for those businesses that want to get involved in research in 2014.

Minister O’Neill said: “This Fund offers up to £750,000 sterling for research starting in 2014 and this presents a real opportunity for small and medium local businesses to use research to maximise their growth.”

She continued: “Investing in industry-led research is a key theme in Going for Growth, the report of the Agri-Food Strategy Board, but many, especially smaller businesses, find this very daunting. The Research Challenge Fund helps to assist these businesses as they attempt to improve their competitiveness and sustainability by embracing research and innovation.”

Application packs for the Research Challenge Fund are available from Thursday 12 December by telephoning the Research Challenge Fund Team on 0044 28 9052 5036 or by emailing [email protected]. The deadline for receipt of completed applications is 5pm on Thursday 20 February.

Pictured at the launch DARD permanent secretary Noel Lavery, Agri Search’s James Campbell and AFBI’s Steven Morrison pictured at the reopening of the DARD Research Challenge Fund