SINGAPORE: Fish farmer Eric Ng spent more than S$1 million to build an automatic water filtration and recycling system for his marine fish farm two years ago.
Since then, Apollo Aquaworld Group has seen an annual yield of 24 tonnes of fish per pond - six times more than a traditional farm.
It is one of the 200 farms in Singapore which will benefit from the newly enhanced Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) meant to raise farming productivity.
Previously, the S$63 million APF co-funded investments in technology on a reimbursement basis. But the fund was restructured with effect from Apr 1 so that up to 30 per cent of the approved funding quantum can be disbursed up front to farmers.
"Previously we had to use our own money or cash flow first to pay off everything we built," said Mr Ng. "Then we could get the reimbursement back from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)."
"But now with the 30 per cent up front, I think it can help a lot of farmers on their cash flow ... I think that will be a great help to the industry."
Under the fund's productivity enhancement grant, the farm received a S$700,000 reimbursement - a move which helped the farm offset the hefty costs associated with shifting to more productive methods of farming.
Apollo Aquaculture Group's automatic water filtration and recycling system has helped it increase its productivity and reduce manpower costs. (Photo: Wendy Wong)
According to AVA, more than S$6 million has been awarded to 46 farms under the APF.
The enhanced fund was part of a slew of measures unveiled in Parliament last month to help guide the local farming industry raise its productivity and overcome industry challenges.
This included the formation of an industry consultation panel to discuss strategies to enhance resource efficiency and productivity of food farms and the assignment of account managers to the farms, to provide business advice and liaise between agencies on farming-related matters.
CONCERNS OVER LIM CHU KANG MOVE-OUT
While farmers Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they welcomed the enhancements, some of them said they had no plans yet to utilise the enhanced fund due to uncertainty surrounding the Lim Chu Kang farming area.
The Government announced last year that 62 farms in the area would have to move out by end-2019 to make way for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds.
Details of the location and new plot sizes have yet to be announced.
"At this stage, we are really heartened that the Government is looking into the agricultural industry and really want to transform it and propel us to another level," said Jurong Frog Farm director Chelsea Wan.
"But really on the ground, what the farms still need to know is still whether are we here to stay; will we be relevant three years from now and by at the end of 2019, where are we going," she said.
"So to take on the grant, to improve certain aspects of the business, we’re all in conundrum whether we should do that, because of the short lease term we have now," said Ms Wan.
Jurong Frog Farm director Chelsea Wan. (Photo: Justin Ong)
Mr Ng agreed: "I think the main problem now is that we’re not able to utilise these funds currently to build an entire facility on this old plot because we’re moving out in 2019."
In response, an AVA spokesperson said that the Government was in the midst of "extensive land preparation works" for the upcoming sale of agriculture land, which is expected to be announced later this year.
"We will inform all interested parties once the land is ready for tender," she added.
Meanwhile, Ms Wan said she looked forward to when she can utilise the enhanced fund to help offset the costs of building a water treatment recycling system for her farm.
"The Government can take their own time to devise these transformation plans, but for farmers on the ground time is not on our side," she said.
"So the sooner we have got affirmation and more clarity on the industry I think the more and better the farmers will do."
Currently, around 1 per cent of Singapore's land is taken up by farmland, with food farms located in areas such as Lim Chu Kang, Sungei Tengah and Murai, according to AVA.