National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants

The National Landcare Program is the Australian Government’s natural resources management program. It aims to protect, conserve and provide for the productive use of Australia’s water, soil, plants and animals and the ecosystems in which they live and interact, in partnership with governments, industry and communities.

Smart Farms Small Grants is a sustainable agriculture element of the National Landcare Program. It is an open, competitive grants opportunity offering up to $50 million over six years (2017-18 to 2022‑23) to fund short-term (up to two years) projects to support farming communities to increase awareness, knowledge, skills and capacity to adopt best management practices. The first round will be followed by subsequent calls for applicants through to 2022-23.

The first funding round under Smart Farms Small Grants received 800 applications. It was excellent to see the interest shown by stakeholders in the program, however, this made the first round highly competitive. After assessment, less than 10 per cent were selected for funding. A list of the successful projects can be found on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website[1].

The main weaknesses with applications in round 1 were:

  • Applications should clearly and concisely address the selection criteria. It is difficult to assess poorly written and verbose applications, so careful editing is advised.
  • Many unsuccessful applications did not describe what it is their project would achieve and what project activities they would do and how they would be done. Many unsuccessful applications did not demonstrate how their project would contribute to program outcomes. Many projects had limited relevance to the program.
  • Projects were not well described and applications were often poorly written. Often it was difficult to understand what the project planned to achieve and what activities were being proposed. Applications did not sufficiently demonstrate how a project would contribute towards the Smart Farms program outcomes or show value for money.
  • Many applications applied for funding for ineligible or inappropriate activities. Others did not demonstrate they would achieve a worthwhile public benefit. Many unsuccessful applications would have delivered a high level of private benefits (that is, demonstrations being carried out on private land and/or demonstrating the use of a specific commercial product or machine) to the applicant without offsetting them with a private co-contribution.
  • Many unsuccessful applicants did not demonstrate that they had the capacity to deliver the project.

After the round 1 assessment, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Community Grants Hub provided some feedback.[2] This is to enable future applicants, whether they had applied previously or not, to write better applications. Writing applications is time consuming and missing out on funding is disappointing. Future applicants should consider how the information above and the general feedback can be used to strengthen their application before they apply for round 2.

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