FARMING Connect has put in place a digital delivery plan to ‘stay connected’ with the industry and offer all the support it can continue to provide during the coronavirus pandemic. Since all Farming Connect face-to-face services have currently ceased, options such as webinars, vlogs, podcasts and video conferencing as well as emails, phone calls and texts will become the new ‘norm’ as the industry faces this crisis together.
Eirwen Williams, director of rural programmes with Menter a Busnes, which delivers Farming Connect on behalf of the Welsh Government and European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, says that Farming Connect staff, specialist advisers and training providers are finding more ways to utilise online and digital technology as they find new ways to support the industry and offer a virtual ‘arm around the shoulder’ approach at this difficult and stressful time.
Mrs Williams said that many businesses are already ‘tech-savvy’, so social media platforms such as Facebook, Google Hangout, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WhatsApp will soon become routine for many eligible individuals wanting to receive services, strengthen their skills and network remotely.
“For anyone unfamiliar with these platforms, we can offer more traditional methods, but we want to assure you that we intend to keep all the support, services and as much training as we are able to provide going, so emails, phones, texts and mailshots will also play a part.
“If you need any ICT support, we have an approved team of specialist tutors who can assist you with general queries over the phone and help prepare you for new ways of working with us.”
All Farming Connect’s face-to-face services have ceased because of the government’s ruling to ‘stay home and avoid all non-essential travel’ but Mrs Williams says that Farming Connect’s 18-strong team of regional development officers are all just a phone call or email away and that they want to hear from you if you have any queries or concerns.
“You can stay up to speed on how we plan to deliver our very comprehensive range of support and knowledge transfer services, special projects and online or digital events and surgeries by regularly checking the Farming Connect website and social media channels, but in addition to this, we also urge you to keep in touch with your development officer.
“This team, who are now all now home-based, will be able direct you to the information you need if you have any specific queries or concerns,” said Mrs. Williams.
“Each development officer is already investigating the most appropriate ways to stay ‘connected’ with the farmers, horticulturalists and foresters in their respective regions, who are doing such a heroic job to keep on producing the food, produce and materials needed during this universal crisis.”
Farming Connect’s spring programme of one-to-one surgeries on topics including staff management, business planning; succession, energy reviews, planning, marketing and diversification will all be arranged either digitally or over the phone, with the first one scheduled for 8 April. Visit the Farming Connect website for a detailed list of topics and dates together with instructions on how to pre-book your online or telephone slot.
“Provided you are registered with Farming Connect – and if you or members of your family are not already registered this is a simple process which can be done online or over the phone – we can arrange a fully-funded one-to-one consultation through the appropriate digital surgeries already planned. If your query is outside the remit of our surgeries, we will set this up with one our approved technical advisers.
“This means we should be able to get you the answers you need quickly via telephone or a digital platform, and if you feel you need further support, you can then consider applying for the Farming Connect Advisory Service, which is subsidised by 80% for individual applications and fully-funded for groups of three or more.”
“We all know it cannot possibly be ‘business as normal’ but we will do all we can to support you, keep morale up, and help you continue to work and improve your skills efficiently and safely.”
Earlier this week, The Farming Community Network, with support from the Welsh Government, launched ‘FarmWell Wales’, a new free resources hub which contains useful, user-friendly guidance, advice and contacts to help keep your business and yourself resilient through changing times and help you plan positively for the future. The initiative takes the form of a website farmwell.wales / farmwell.cymru, together with a hard copy directory which has been posted out to approximately 16,500 farm businesses across Wales. Farming Connect will continue to email or post regular ‘What’s on’ flyers and bi-monthly technical bulletins to all businesses registered with Farming Connect. In addition, it will issue updates via its usual communication channels, the press and media about the numerous projects, mentoring, skills and training arrangements and all other services which are currently under review as the organisation seeks ways to replace all face-to-face activities.
For contact details of all Farming Connect development officers and a map showing the areas they cover, visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect. Alternatively call the Farming Connect Service Centre on 08456 000 813.
Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.