UK Government allocates £17.5M to first round of funds for Farming Innovation Programme

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AUTHOR: Fiona Holland

Applications opened last week for a new Government-funded programme which supports the future of innovative and sustainable agriculture in the UK.

The Farming Innovation Programme will feature three rounds of funds. The ‘industry-led R&D partnerships fund’, the ‘farming futures R&D fund’, and the ‘projects to accelerate adoption fund’.

Both Defra and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) have paired up to allocate these funds.

The first round of funds that has opened for applications is for the ‘industry-led R&D partnerships’, which received £17.5m from the Government. This fund encourages farmers, growers, foresters, and businesses to bid for money to create new technology to help them find more efficient and eco-friendly ways of working such as using artificial intelligence, or low-emission machines.

Three out of the four competitions for the ‘industry-led R&D partnerships fund’ opened for applications on 20 October for 5-6 weeks. The fourth competition will be open for applications early next year.

The three competitions are Research Starter Projects, Feasibility Projects and Small R&D Partnership Projects. The first competition helps farmers and growers, who haven’t already received Innovate UK funding, build on early-stage ideas with a collaborative team. The second examines the feasibility of early-stage solutions and provides guidance for larger R&D projects. The third competition aims to implement R&D to create innovative solutions that will enhance sustainability, productivity, and resilience in the agricultural sector.

Early next year, Defra will launch the ‘Farming Futures R&D Fund’. The fund is aimed at projects working to reduce the environmental impact of farming and tackling climate change. A third fund, ‘Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund’, will launch later in 2022 to support farmer-led projects to trial the viability of new farming innovations.

The Programme evolved from a set of new measures laid out in the Government’s Agricultural Transition Plan, one of which calls for supporting farming projects that are helping to make England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors more sustainable, and getting them closer reaching net zero emissions.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Jo Churchill commented: “Innovation is vital to address the challenges facing the agricultural and horticultural sectors. New ideas, technologies and processes will play a key role in helping farmers, growers and businesses to become more productive.”

Alongside the news of the launch of the Farming Innovation Programme, was an announcement about the new projects that had won a share of the £14.5m funding which Defra and UKRI developed for the recent Farming Innovation Pathways competition launched in February this year.

The award-winning projects hope to improve productivity to match the huge demand for British food, as well as introduce more sustainable forms of food production for the future.

Some of the winning applicants’ ideas which will now be developed are:

  • A robot which analyses the growth-stages of fruit crops, making it easier for farmers to identify a fruit’s ripeness, size, and its best picking time.
  • A circular farming practice model, where farmers use soldier flies at the end of their life as animal feed, allowing them to make use of what would otherwise be farm waste.
  • A pesticide-free form of protecting vegetable seeds against parasites and pathogens, using laser treatment and natural disinfectants.
  • Improving the nutritional and flavour values of fruits and vegetables with natural daylight, getting rid of the need for pesticides in the production process, increasing the production season, and boosting the sustainability and competitiveness of fruit and vegetable growing in the UK.

UKRI Challenge Director for Transforming Food Production Katrina Hayter said: “As the UK gets ready to host COP26 in November, it is timely that we can unveil so many great projects in the vital area of agriculture that will help meet our net zero goals.”

To read more about the application process for the latest FIP competitions, or to apply, visit the UKRI website.

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