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The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and UK Research and Innovation have partnered to launch a funding programme aimed at driving the adoption of innovative technology in the agricultural sector.
The initiative is part of the measures set out in the government’s Agricultural Transition Plan, which outlines the its plan to cease direct payments to farmers and support the industry in different ways, such as driving adoption of tech to reduce costs and improve profitability.
Defra and UKRI will make £17.5m available for the first round of the three funds, and have opened applications for the initiative today (20 October).
“Innovation is vital to address the challenges facing the agricultural and horticultural sectors,” said parliamentary under secretary of state, Jo Churchill. “New ideas, technologies and processes will play a key role in helping farmers, growers and businesses to become more productive.”
Industry-led R&D Partnerships Fund is the first fund to open, whereby farmers, growers, foresters and businesses can bid for the resources. The focus will be the development of new technologies and approaches that could be helpful in overcoming challenges and addressing opportunities, such as artificial intelligence and low-emission machineries to optimise the production process, and the development of climate-resilient crops.
Under the initiatives being introduced from October 2021, the government will be leading Researcher Starter Projects, a project aimed at helping famers and growers who haven’t previously received Innovate UK funding to develop early-stage ideas and build collaborative teams.
Feasibility Projects is another strand of work, which will test the viability of early stage solutions and to inform decisions on subsequent larger-scale research and development projects. Smaller projects will focus on solutions with potential to improve overall productivity, sustainability and sector resilience.
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The second fund to be launched by Defra in early 2022 is the Farming Futures R&D Fund, which will support strategic projects aimed at reducing the environmental impact of farming.
A third fund, to be launched later in 2022, is Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund, aimed at supporting farmer-led projects to trial the feasibility of new innovations on farm environments.
The programme is an expansion of Defra and UKRI’s partnership for the Farming Innovation Pathways competition, launched in February. Defra also announced the winning projects that won a share of the £14.5m allocated to the initiative.
Winning ideas include a fruit-scouting robot that is able to monitor the growth-stages of crops, up to determining fruit ripeness, size and optimal picking time, to allow farmers to maximise production and yields.