More than £14-million is to be made available to unlock innovation and develop solutions in the farming sector in two new research and feasibility competitions under the Farming Innovation Programme, Defra has announced today (Wednesday, August 2).
It is part of the government’s delivery of its commitment to invest £600 million in innovation and productivity in the sector over three years, and adds further support to the development and take-up of innovative practices on farms to boost productivity and sustainability whilst meeting net zero targets.
The competitions are open to farmers, growers, foresters, research organisations and businesses involved in agriculture to collaborate on novel ideas and solutions.
Previous rounds have led to investment in automations to improve soft fruit yield; a ‘herd’ of lightweight, battery-operated, asparagus-harvesting robots; and the use of ultraviolet as a disinfectant in the dairy and poultry sectors.
Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “These competitions are all about encouraging collaborations between farmers and growers on the one hand, and research organisations and industry on the other, to help bring ideas from the planning stage into practice.
“The success of the previous competition rounds and the broad scope of ideas coming forward showcase the range of possibilities available for driving up productivity and solving some of the industry’s biggest challenges. I encourage everyone to take a look at what’s on offer in the latest competitions and apply.”
Defra is today publishing guidance for the third round of the Small R&D Partnerships competition, which seeks to help businesses develop a new farming product or service and take it to commercialisation on the open market. Worth almost £10 million, it has been developed in partnership with the Transforming Food Production Challenge and is delivered by Innovate UK.
The second round of the competition has already funded projects including exploring how to breed sheep with a naturally low carbon footprint to help sheep farmers contribute to the journey towards net zero, and a project combining generation of electricity with growing berries to power operational processes such as automated picking, sensors and vehicles.
It comes alongside new guidance for a £4.5-million feasibility studies competition which aims to support businesses and researchers through the difficult testing phase of an idea, checking whether it works in practice and helping them assess whether to invest in a project. It looks for early-stage solutions that have the potential to substantially improve the overall productivity, sustainability and resilience of farming, and move existing agricultural sectors to net zero. Successful applicants in previous rounds include a study to identify fungal strains that can help fight against insect and fungal pests in wheat crops, reducing the costs associated with multiple applications of chemical pesticides, mechanical damage from repeated spray applications and crop yield losses.
The guidance is available on GOV UK and farmers, growers, foresters, research organisations and businesses are encouraged to read this ahead of applications opening. Applications for the Small R&D Partnerships competition open on August 14 and the Feasibility Studies competition window is open from September 18.
Dr Katrina Hayter, executive director for the Healthy Living and Agriculture Domain at Innovate UK, said: “We look forward to supporting the next round of applicants and identifying promising partnerships that hold the potential to address the sustainability, efficiency, and net zero challenges confronting the UK’s agrifood industry.
“Feasibility studies mark the initial stage in researching an idea that could improve farming, while small R&D partnerships are a vital step to empowering businesses to forge novel farming products and services, paving the way towards successful commercialisation.
“By fostering collaborations between farmers, growers, agri-businesses and researchers, these partnerships become the driving force behind transforming innovative solutions into practical applications.”
Since opening in October 2021, 16 competitions have launched under the government’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme and, as of August 2023, more than £123-million in funding to industry-led research and development in agriculture and horticulture has been announced.
The importance of innovation in the food and farming sectors was highlighted at the recent Farm to Fork Summit where the government announced a package of support for the farming sector, including new measures to ensure the sector remains at the forefront of adopting new technologies and techniques.
This included the ‘On-Farm Environmental Resilience’ competition, which will see up to £12.5-million awarded to projects driving the development of new technology and innovative farming methods, with a focus on practical solutions to make a real difference on farms. The competition closed at the end of last month and projects will be notified of the outcome of their applications in the autumn.