A new form of farm diversification was launched last week. Known as social farming, it will involve farms providing a social support service for people who use health and social services.

Social Farming Across Borders is the name of the new project which is seeking to establish 20 pilot farms across the six counties of Northern Ireland and the six Border counties of the Republic.

The project which has been granted 700,000 euros from the European Union Interreg IVA Programme, is run by University College, Dublin; Queen's University, Belfast, Leitrim Development Company and DARD's Loughry Campus, has already been in operation for most of the past year and continue over the next two years.

The project was launched by the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle O'Neill and Minister of State in the Republic, Fergus O'Dowd.

The DARD Minister said, "Our respective Departments recognise and support the potential of this innovative cross border project.

"We understand how experiencing farming at first hand, combined with physical activity has been shown to help a broad range of vulnerable people suffering from mental health problems, physical and learning disabilities and drug or alcohol addiction." She added "Social Farming is particularly relevant to my department on two counts. It complements our work on tackling rural poverty and social isolation while also providing an opportunity for farmers to generate additional income by developing a Social Farming enterprise."