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Growing Kent & Medway announces £2M fund for regional sustainable food and drink projects

young woman with glasses smiling
3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
View across Kent fields near Shoreham in Kent, England

Research consortium Growing Kent & Medway has launched a new round of collaborative R&D grants for horticultural food and drinks businesses in South East England.

The initiative, worth up to £2 million in total, is available to companies which have projects aimed at easing the horticultural food and drink sector’s transition to net-zero, and delivering “improved productivity and sustainability”.

The consortium will offer grants between £50,000 and £350,000, which can be used to fund up to 40% of project costs.

Projects can focus on areas such as fresh produce packaging, horticultural production and supporting technologies, as well as food and drink processing. Ideas can tackle challenges which may occur at any point in the supply chain.

Businesses must partner with a Kent-based research organisation to apply for a portion of the grant. Some of the suggested collaborators include:

  • GreenTech Hub for Advanced Horticulture at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which has specialists in molecular genetics, genomics, pest and disease biology and management, crop and post-harvest physiology, environmental science and agronomy. NIAB’s Hub features a recently developed glasshouse and propagation unit, which includes plant growth rooms with controlled environment and a Wine Innovation Centre.
  • Medway Food Innovation Centre at the University of Greenwich, which specialises in crop protection, post-harvest storage, value addition and food innovation.
  • Biotechnology Hub for Sustainable Food and Drink at the University of Kent, whose researchers look at how to apply high-tech approaches to the production and processing of high-value foods and plant-based compounds from plant material and waste, pathogen identification and control, and healthy soil maintenance.
  • Canterbury Christ Church University, which has engineering, design and technology specialists working in horticultural assistive technologies such as advanced sensors, AI robotics, advanced and additive manufacturing among others. The university also has researchers that work with the circular economy, soil science and biodiversity.

Applicant proposals should be able to show a positive impact on the economy in the Kent and Medway region. The projects should also bring social value to the local community, according to the consortium.

Dr Nikki Harrison, Programme Director at Growing Kent & Medway, said: “Supporting businesses to innovate is vital to creating a more sustainable and resilient food and drink sector in the UK.

“Whether its developing alternative sustainable packaging options, advancing robotics to improve crop production or identifying innovative uses for waste by-products, we’re looking to support novel ideas throughout the whole supply chain.”

The first round of the competition took place in June this year. Over £1 milllion was awarded to six innovation-focused projects.

Successful projects included an initiative aimed at increasing levels of vitamin C and iron in tomato crops to make them more nutritious and resistant to climate change. Another looked at finding ways to grow better quality cherries and develop new foods from cherry waste.

Doug Wanstall, Founder of Re-Generation Earth, whose project looks at using biochar from farm waste to keep carbon in soils, said: “We tapped into the Growing Kent & Medway funding because we wanted to build an alliance with the University of Kent and this was a great way to start that relationship.

“We’ve got some really good practical ideas that we want to develop and demonstrate, but we really want to add the academic verification to that. And this is what the Growing Kent & Medway funds will be helping to finance. That cost of the two organisations working together to develop the protocols, to further the development of biochar use within agriculture.”

As the climate crises worsens, how is the food system adapting and changing and will it impact what we eat in the future? Find out in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

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