Boost for UK’s farming innovation

Artificial Intelligence technology to optimise welfare in pigs, agri-robots to help speed up vegetable harvests and automation to increase fruit crop yields are just some of research and development projects to receive funding through the Farming Innovation Programme, the UK government has announced.

The £16.5 million of funding will help drive innovation in agriculture and horticulture and is part of the Government’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme, it said. It is run in partnership with UK Research and Innovation and the Food Production Challenge.

Farming Innovation Minister Steve Double said: “Our £270 million investment in farming innovation is designed to help take the UK’s world-leading research ideas and turn them into practical solutions to support healthy soils, abundant pollinators and clean water alongside profitable food production.”

Katrina Hayter, challenge director for the Transforming Food Production challenge, said: “You only need look at the sheer breadth of projects that have received funding to see there are so many opportunities for innovation across the food sector. From animal health to crop productivity, the introduction of strategic support technology and the precise application of chemicals, it’s exciting to see so many concepts beginning to come to life.”

The Farming Innovation Programme aims to spark new ideas and collaboration across the sector to address long-term challenges such as producing nutritious food more efficiently whilst helping the sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net zero goals. 

Farmers, growers, foresters, businesses and researchers are being invited to collaborate and submit applications for these two new competitions. A £5.5 million competition for ‘Feasibility projects’ will offer grants for projects worth between £200,000 and £500,000 to support research and development through the difficult testing phase of an idea to see if it is worth investing in further.

Winners of the ‘Small R&D Partnership’ competition will receive a share of the £11 million grant funding for industrial research projects worth between £1 million and £3 million to further develop new solutions that will ultimately address major on-farm or immediate post farmgate challenges or opportunities such as enhancing productivity and sustainability.

Details of the successful applications from the first round of Small R&D Partnership Projects, Feasibility Projects and Research Starter Projects, that were launched in October 2021 were shared by the UKRI. These include Farmsense, which uses of innovative sensor technology and AI to optimise welfare in pigs; Blue Planet II, a new project which aims to build upon its highly successful autonomous technology to further increase fruit crop yield and quality; and a new project from ‘Muddy Machines’, whose agri-robot concepts aim to speed up vegetable harvesting with sustainability and reliability at their core.

Altogether Defra expects to spend around £600 million on grants and other support for farmers to invest in productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, research and development over the next three years.

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