Nineteen projects will receive a share of £12.5 million in government funding to boost productivity, food security and sustainable farming practices. It brings the total amount of funding announced for agriculture and horticulture research and development to £120 million since 2021.
The projects are part of the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition and include a system to accurately predict and enhance the quality of strawberry yields; reducing waste and optimising labour and harvesting schedules; a project to digitally map and monitor vineyards using drones, robots and sensors; and a navigation system for field-based robotic vehicles to improve accuracy and reliability.
The competition is part of Defra’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme (FIP) and is delivered by Innovate UK. It has funded 17 competitions since October 2021. Defra states that the projects funded will help meet the government’s commitment at the Farm to Fork Summit to continue producing at least 60% of the UK’s food.
Speaking at the World Agri-Tech Summit in London, Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers are always forward-looking, and innovation is key to driving a resilient, productive and sustainable agriculture sector that puts food on our tables.
“The government stands firmly behind agri-tech innovation as the cornerstone of modern farming practices. By providing opportunities, funding and a supportive ecosystem within the sector, we aim to empower farmers, drive innovation and create a sustainable and prosperous future for agriculture across the UK.”
At the summit, Mr Spencer outlined the range of competitions that are supporting investment in the sector. This includes £10 million through the third round of the Small R&D Partnerships competition and a further £4.5 million through the Feasibility Studies Competition.
In addition to this, the Farming Investment Fund is helping growers to invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure, while the Investor Partnership competition will combine grant funding with private investment to allow smaller ag-tech businesses to grow.
Florian Richter, CEO of Muddy Machines LTD, said: “Obtaining funding to research and develop such a key component of our technology is essential to our progression toward commercial operations.
“We count ourselves truly privileged to be located in the UK and be able to benefit from this level of government funding support.”
Oli Hilbourne, CEO and Co-Founder at Outfield Technologies, said: “The VISTA Project is a great example of the strength of UK innovation funding, bringing together technology companies, growers and academic partners to solve specific industry challenges.
“The UK’s wine industry is growing rapidly, learning best practice from other wine growing regions. With VISTA, the UK wine industry has an opportunity to set the international standard and export our knowledge to the rest of the wine growing world. We are really excited to get started on the project and work with UK vineyards to drive productivity increases.”
Dr Katrina Hayter, Challenge Director – Transforming Food Production Challenge at Innovate UK, said: “Robotics and automation are crucial drivers in addressing the challenges posed by a growing global population and the need for sustainable practices in various sectors, including agriculture.
“By fostering innovation and research, we empower our farmers, growers, foresters and businesses to not only enhance productivity and economic growth but also to lead the way in sustainable practices. These projects are a testament to our commitment to improving environmental outcomes and reducing carbon emissions, ensuring a brighter and more sustainable future for our agricultural and horticultural communities.”