AN ATTEMPT to breathe life back into rural industry has been launched by TV countryside personality John Craven.

The BBC presenter called in at Harrogate to give his backing to the £300,000, three-year scheme to boost the chances of young agricultural entrepreneurs.

"Farming is on the ropes, but it will survive," said Mr Craven.

"It is not a dead-end business, there is a real future for bright enthusiastic people in an industry that has served our country so well for thousands of years."

But he said schemes like "Growing Routes", launched at the Great Yorkshire Showground, would be vital to ensure its survival.

"Thousands of people are losing heart every year. Now we need schemes like this to lead the industry forward," he said.

"We need people who are dedicated and skilled to lead the way, and this will provide these people with both financial backing and inspiration."

The "Growing Routes" project, for people under 45, is being organised by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

The society is sponsoring the Evening Press Eat Local campaign, another initiative aimed at boosting the region's agricultural economy.

Yorkshire Forward has invested £300,000 in the Growing Routes partnership, with potentially more investment to follow.

"The money will be used mainly for grants and loans to get businesses started with a first step - not a huge amount of money per business, but enough for a foothold and credibility," said project director George Hamilton.

He said that besides financial help, the scheme would offer a mentor service, where successful business people would give support and encouragement for newcomers, as well as network opportunities for contacts and ideas.

"Now we just need people with the ideas and potential to come forward and ask for our help, and we will be only too pleased to give it to them," said Mr Hamilton.

The scheme was also backed by Sir Donald Curry, who is responsible for government strategy on sustainable farming and food.

He said: "It is a very exciting project, whose principle is to allow older farmers to step back and allow young people to have a commercial opportunity.

"This is a great way to encourage young people, and equip them to meet the challenges that they clearly now face.

"I hope that it will change the shape of the business of farming within the rural economy of Yorkshire."

Updated: 10:35 Wednesday, June 25, 2003