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Farming tech projects get £16.5m in government funding

Projects receiving funding through latest round of farming innovation programme include tech to improve fruit farming and the use of artificial intelligence to improve pigs’ welfare

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced £16.5m in funding for research and development (R&D) projects in farming. The funding is part of the £270m Farming Innovation Programme run in partnership with UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) “transforming food production challenge”.

The £16.5m will be split two ways: £5.5m for feasibility projects, offering grants for projects still in the testing phase to develop early-stage ideas; and £11m through UKRI’s small R&D partnership competition.

Farming innovation minister Steve Double said the aim was to “unlock greater potential” in the UK’s “already brilliant farming and horticulture sector”.

“Today’s first round of projects demonstrate how – with the right funding and support – there are great productivity and environmental sustainability gains to be made,” he said.

“Our £270m investment in farming innovation is designed to help take the UK’s world-leading research ideas and turn them into practical solutions to support healthy soils, abundant pollinators and clean water, alongside profitable food production.”

One project to receive funding is Farmsense, a platform that uses image and sensor technologies combined with artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise the welfare of pigs through analysing animal growth, behaviour and gas profiles, alongside their day and night patterns.

Other funded projects include Blue Planet II, which uses an autonomous platform to improve fruit farming, and Muddy Machines, which is working to develop a herd of agri-robots to be used for harvesting vegetables.

Katrina Hayter, director of UKRI’s transforming food production challenge, said the projects showed there were “many opportunities for innovation across the food sector”.

“From animal health to crop productivity, the introduction of strategic support technology and the precise application of chemicals, it’s exciting to see so many concepts beginning to come to life,” she said.

“When brought together, it shows how the whole food system can benefit from new ideas, with knowledge sharing and collaboration at its core. We are keen to ensure farmers and growers remain at the heart of projects.

“This helps bring their valuable real-life experiences to the project consortia to ensure each innovation stays focused on improving the day-to-day challenges faced by the food sector. We now look forward to supporting these projects further as they develop.”

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