THE government has set aside a record S$63 million for the agricultural sector to boost its yields, raise productivity and make better use of land.

The Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF), announced by the Ministry of National Development (MND) on Monday, is the largest sum of money the government has ever committed to help local farmers. It is a 110 per cent increase from the S$30 million that it had previously committed through the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) Food Fund in 2009.

The APF is part of the efforts of three government agencies - MND, AVA and the National Parks Board (NParks) - to develop local farms and landscape nurseries to create a high-tech and innovative sector that makes efficient use of land and labour resources.

As much as S$53 million of the fund has been allocated for farm capability development to support productivity improvements in the sector. The remaining S$10 million will support farms in carrying out R&D in innovative production technologies.

With the APF, AVA will provide funding support to local farmers to expand their production capabilities and invest in transformational farming systems, equipment and infrastructure.

Similarly, landscape nurseries can tap the existing S$3.9 million Landscape Productivity Grant (LPG) administered by NParks. The LPG, which was launched in September 2013, serves to co-fund nurseries' investments in machinery and technology, and is part of the broader initiative to raise productivity of the landscape industry.

Due to the emphasis on land intensification, farms and landscape nurseries will have to meet certain conditions when applying for the grant, namely using at least 90 per cent of their land for farm production or landscape nursery purposes and for the farms and landscape nurseries to meet minimum production levels and minimum productivity targets respectively, to qualify for new leases or lease extensions.

These conditions will be applicable to new farm sites to be tendered out by AVA, lease extensions for existing farmland, and landscape nurseries managed by NParks.

"With the various funding schemes, AVA and NParks will work closely with the farms and nurseries respectively to help them build up their capabilities, and use more automation and technology to reduce manpower demand and optimise the use of our limited land. Land is scarce in Singapore and we must consciously intensify the land used for farms and landscape nurseries," said Mohamad Maliki Osman, Minister of State for National Development and Defence, who announced the new policies during a visit to Sky Greens farm on Monday.

AVA and NParks will provide greater certainty to the farmers with a sufficient payback period to recoup productivity investments.

For the farms, AVA will tender new farm sites with a 10-year tenure, and offer existing sites a lease extension of 10 years if they are not required for any future development. These leases can be extended for another 10 years provided the farms meet the minimum production levels and other prevailing criteria, and if there are no redevelopment plans.

For landscape nurseries, NParks will tender sites on a 3+3+3 year tenancy basis. This stems from the nurseries' different nature of operations which require lower upfront investment on infrastructure, with a shorter payback period.