Defra unveils new £14m research fund to boost farming innovation

Over £14 million is on offer as part of new competition rounds to back research into innovative farming solutions
Over £14 million is on offer as part of new competition rounds to back research into innovative farming solutions

More than £14m will be made available to unlock innovation and develop solutions in the farming sector as part of two new research and feasibility competitions.

The competitions are open to farmers, growers, research organisations and businesses involved in agriculture to collaborate on novel ideas and solutions.

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.

Previous rounds have led to investment in automations to improve soft fruit yield, and a ‘herd’ of lightweight, battery-operated, asparagus-harvesting robots.

Another previous round involves 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 has also published 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.

Dr Katrina Hayter, of 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.

“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 £270m Farming Innovation Programme.

As of August 2023, more than £123m in funding to industry-led research and development in agriculture and horticulture has been announced.