Artificial intelligence technology to optimize pig welfare, agricultural robots to help speed up vegetable harvests and automation to increase fruit crop yields are just some of the research and development projects that will receive funding through the Agricultural Innovation Program, it was announced today (Monday August 22).

Details of these innovative new projects come as additional support was announced for farmers and growers with new ideas to help increase food production, encourage sustainable practices and increase productivity, with the next series of projects feasibility studies and the competitions for small R&D partnership projects which are due to open soon.

The £16.5m funding will help spur innovation in agriculture and horticulture and is part of the government’s £270m Agricultural Innovation Programme.

It is run in partnership with UK Research and Innovation, building on their successful Transforming Food Production challenge.

Agriculture Innovation Minister Steve Double said:

We want to help unlock greater potential in our already brilliant agriculture and horticulture sector. Today’s first batch of projects demonstrate how – with the right funding and support – there are big gains in productivity and environmental sustainability to be made.

Our £270m investment in agricultural innovation is designed to help take cutting-edge research ideas from the UK and turn them into practical solutions to support healthy soils, abundant pollinators and clean water alongside to profitable food production.

Katrina Hayter, Transforming Food Production challenge director, said:

One only has to look at the scale of the projects that have received funding to see that there are so many opportunities for innovation in the food sector. From animal health and crop productivity, to the introduction of strategic support technologies and the precise application of chemicals, it’s exciting to see so many concepts start to come to life.

When brought together, they show how the entire food system can benefit from new ideas, with knowledge sharing and collaboration at its heart. We are keen to keep farmers and producers at the heart of projects, bringing their valuable real-life experiences to project consortia to ensure that every innovation remains focused on improving the day-to-day challenges faced by industry players. food sector. . We now look forward to continuing to support these projects as they develop.

The Agricultural Innovation Program aims to spark new ideas and collaboration across the sector to address long-term challenges such as producing nutritious food more efficiently while helping the sector reduce greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse effect to achieve net zero targets. Farmers, winegrowers, foresters, companies and researchers are invited to collaborate and submit applications for these two new competitions:

  • A £5.5million ‘Feasibility Projects’ competition will offer grants for projects worth between £200,000 and £500,000 to support research and development throughout the design phase. hard test of an idea to see if it is worth investing more.
  • Winners of the ‘Small R&D Partnership’ competition will receive a share of the £11m grant for industrial research projects worth between £1m and £3m to develop new solutions that will ultimately account, will address major issues on-farm or immediately after-farm. challenges or opportunities such as improving productivity and sustainability.

Details of successful applications from the first round of Small R&D Partnership Projects, Feasibility Projects and Research Startup Projects, which were launched in October 2021, were shared by UKRI today. These include:

  • Farmsense’s use of innovative sensor technology and AI to optimize pig welfare;
  • Blue Planet II, a new project that aims to build on its highly successful stand-alone technology to further increase the yield and quality of fruit crops;
  • A new project from ‘Muddy Machines’, whose agro-robot concepts aim to speed up vegetable harvesting with sustainability and reliability at its core.

In total, Defra plans to spend around £600million in grants and other support to farmers to invest in productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, research and development over the next three months. years.