A PIONEERING new service is set to bring the finest local food to a computer screen near you.

The new venture will see gourmet handmade sausages sizzling their way through cyberspace, as Evening Press columnist and East Yorkshire farmer Grant Burton is one of the first producers to take part in the innovative scheme.

The tasty bangers will be just one of the products available on the new National Farmers' Union "virtual marketplace", launched today.

The initiative has been developed to put local and regional food buyers and suppliers directly in touch through NFU SourceDirect.

Mr Burton, of Wilberfoss, said: "I am very happy to be coming into this campaign early on. It is a great project, and, we hope, another step on the way to making farming work again.

"We have adapted so much in the last few years, identifying ways we can diversify and keep going. The sausages have proved a huge success, and the farmers' market initiative has also been great for us.

"If this is as successful, it will be another real step forward for us."

The site will allow retailers and caterers to source produce from the local area on a wholesale basis with a map-based website, to meet the growing demand from the catering and retail industry for local produce.

Mr Burton said: "There is a lot of potential for this to really take off, it means quality food from the farm can be delivered direct to the store or restaurant."

It is also hoped the site will cater for greater diversification by featuring lots of different types of food.

The NFU is now encouraging members to register for the scheme before it goes live in July, with the first 300 to sign up being given a free webpage on the site.

NFU county chairwoman Rosie Dunn said: "A lot of farmers in the region have diversified, and are now looking for a market to reach consumers, which this will provide.

"Grant is a great ambassador for local producers, he has worked very hard, and has already been selling successfully for several years.

"I am sure this kind of project will be a great success with such people taking part."

Updated: 11:09 Monday, May 12, 2003