A SHEPLEY farmer is celebrating a cash grant which will help him to expand his business growing an unusual crop.
It is the "icing on the cake" for Anthony Smith, who grows wheat straw used for thatching - in a county celebrated for its stone and slate roofs.
Mr Smith started growing the crop eight years ago on the 35-acre site, replacing a more traditional potato crop.
He now supplies craftsmen from the Midlands to Scotland with the raw material that keeps Britain's historic thatched buildings looking their best.
The grant from the Government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will allow him to increase production and make supplying his customers easier.
The cash will buy a new trailer, extend his barn so it can take up to 50 acres of crop, his target for expansion, and buy a machine to strip unwanted leaves from the thatch.
"I'm one of the few people in the North who thatchers can rely on," said Mr Smith. "A lot of wheat straw is grown in the South, where thatched roofs are less unusual.
"I've supplied straw for jobs in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, and for a house in France which a client was re-roofing.
"There's a constant demand for material. Because planning regulations will always require a householder to replace thatch with thatch, it's a business that isn't going to die out. The average thatched roof needs to be replaced every 20 years."
He added that there was a year-round demand for straw.
Supplies from the previous year were almost used up by July, when harvesting of the new crop began.
Rachel Ashelford, from Defra's Rural Development Service, said: "If you ask a foreign visitor what's the most distinctive type of British building, they'll say a thatched cottage.
"This particular grant combines two of the aims of the Rural Enterprise Scheme, to help rural diversification and to encourage and support craft industries.
"As a roof needs to be replaced about every 20 years there's a market among a small pool of skilled craftspeople who need good-quality material all year."