Farm Family Key Skills

Project Theme: Farming
County: Regional
Location Across rural Northern Ireland
Total Cost: £0.00

Project Summary

Farm Family Options (FFO) Skills Training was funded under Axis 1, Measure 1.1 of the NI Rural Development Programme 2007 -2013. Running from February 2009 to March 201, it had a total available budget of £2.6 million.  Almost 13,000 farmers and farm family members benefited over the lifetime of the programme. It operated under two delivery models:-

Traditional Grants programme (2009-2011)
Funding of up to £1,000 per family member to support attending one or more training courses.  

Collective Training programme (2012-2015)
Three themes were delivered under this model:

  • ICT such as Managing Farm Records and Fast Track into Information Technology;
  • Health & Safety aimed at raising awareness of farm safety;
  • Animal Welfare – a BVD Awareness programme delivered in association with AHWNI. 

Project Information

FFO Skills Training was one element of a scheme funded under Axis One, Measure 1.1 of the NI Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. This overall measure was concerned with creating training and information interventions to help farm families maximise the returns from their farm business. Designed to contribute to the competitiveness of agricultural and horticultural businesses in Northern Ireland the measure comprised of three distinct schemes:-

Benchmarking: provided assistance and support for innovative learning which ensures the collection and collation of accurate and relevant farm data. This scheme was delivered by Ai Services Ltd in conjunction with CAFRE (College for Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise).

Focus Farms Scheme: assisted in the development of selected farm businesses to communicate to visiting farmers, a range of new and emerging technologies. This scheme was delivered by Ai Services Ltd.

Agricultural Business Mentoring & Skills Training: assisted farmers and farm family members to analyse their present position and determine their options for the future. The assistance offered covered economic, technical and social issues and supported farm families to effectively adapt to change.

A consortium entitled the Countryside Agri Rural Partnership was responsible for delivery of the above schemes. The consortium comprised Countryside Services Limited (CSL), Ai Services and the Rural Development Council (RDC) with the RDC responsible for delivery of the Skills Training element. 


FFO Skills training commenced in February 2009 and concluded in March 2015. It had a total available budget of £2.6million and a target of 10,850 farmers/family members trained over the lifetime of the programme. It operated under two delivery models:-
1. Traditional Grants programme (2009-2011)
2. Collective Training programme (2012-2015)

The traditional grants programme operated open calls inviting farmers and farm family members to apply for grant aid towards identified training. Funding of up to £1,000 per family member (at different grant intervention rates) was available to support attending one or more training courses, and an associated training allowance of up to £250 per farm family member was also available. Open to all Farm Business ID holders, spouses and children age 17 and over, this programme offered a wide range of eligible courses, with the only exclusions being courses undertaken for pleasure and any courses above NVQ level 3. This method was reviewed in 2011 with a recommendation to change the delivery approach in favour of a more simplified and administratively streamlined model.

The collective training approach was adopted in 2012. This simplified approach was based on the identification of targeted training areas designed to meet industry needs. With an objective of delivering quality localised courses on a collective basis (i.e. to groups of farmers/farm family members) this method of delivery proved very successful, not only in maximising trainee participation but in achieving the necessary economies of scale in support of best value for money. The three themes of ICT for the farm family; Animal Welfare; and Health & Safety (which included an online tool FarmSafeNet) were identified and tailored training programmes established for each. 


12,960 farmers & farm family members benefited from the Programme including:-

  • 1,200 farm businesses in receipt of individual grant awards for identified training (supporting 1,331 courses)
  • 2,486 completing ICT training
  • 5,383 completing FarmSafe Awareness Training
  • 1038 accessing FarmSafeNet
  • 2,853 completing BVD Awareness

Other achievements included:

  • 37 trainers trained in FarmSafe Awareness
  • 51 Focus Farmers trained in FarmSafe Awareness
  • 158 vets trained to deliver BVD Awareness sessions
  • 4,158 farm safety actions carried out on farms as result of participating in FarmSafe Awareness
  • Overall 16% female participation achieved with an above industry average in ICT (37%)
  • Targeted promotional campaigns to over 38,000 farm households
  • Design & development of course content – FarmSafe Awareness
  • Increased collaborations, knowledge transfer and partnership working 
  • Design and development of an innovative online farm safety toolkit –
  • Secretariat support to 9 Farm Safety Partnership training sub group meetings from February 2013 to October 2014
  • Initial research into accredited training options for FarmSafe Awareness

One such beneficiary of the Programme was Philomena Fegan who lives with her family on a busy beef and sheep farm. Over the years she has helped her husband with the farm business. Philomena undertook ICT training as part of the Programme and found the course very beneficial as it covered topics such as VAT online, accessing DARD online services and setting up spreadsheets
‘In recent years DARD has been encouraging farmers to do more of their business online so when I received a leaflet from Farm Family Options detailing their Managing Farm Records Course I registered straight away. I am now able to complete forms online and send emails. I have instant access to information through use of websites and I am able to do some of the paperwork myself therefore reducing costs. Attending the training has given me an appetite to access further training particularly in relation to more detailed spreadsheets.”


Some lessons identified as part of a post project evaluation included:

There was an evident disproportionate administration cost to implementing a traditional grants programme for small scale investments with different grant intervention rates. Such schemes only work where the grant size justifies the level of administration or in the case of small grants where there is a limited menu of targeted activities involved i.e one specific course where the administrative payment process is made directly to the training provider thus managing the number of claims rather than small grants administered to a large volume of individual claimants.

The Collective Training model of identification of targeted training areas designed to meet industry needs delivered locally to groups of farmers/farm family members was very effective both in terms of value for money and KPI achievement.

Key to Programme success is an ability to rapidly respond to industry needs, a flexible approach to delivery underpinned by partnership working and an effective communication strategy.

Evidence would support short, tailored and specific courses delivered locally (the average distance travelled in this programme being 7.64 miles). Peer to peer learning is valued and worked particularly well in promoting the FarmSafe message.