Farming Innovation Programme launched to boost the future of farming


A new long-term funding program to help farmers, producers, foresters and other businesses adopt innovative ways to maximize productivity and foster sustainability opened for applications today, October 20.

The Agricultural Innovation Program, one of the new measures set out in the government’s agricultural transition plan, will support ambitious projects aimed at transforming productivity and improving environmental sustainability in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors, while bringing sectors towards net zero.

In partnership with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), Defra is now making Β£ 17.5 million available for the first round of the three funds that make up the program. The first fund to be opened is the β€œIndustry-Led R&D Partnership Fund”, where farmers, producers, foresters and businesses can apply for funding to develop new technologies and practices that will help them overcome challenges and exploit new opportunities in the sector, such as the use of artificial intelligence and low-emission machinery to optimize the production process and the development of climate-resilient crops.

Early next year, Defra will launch the Farming Futures R&D Fund, for strategic projects aimed at fighting climate change by reducing the environmental impact of agriculture. The third of the funds, called the Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund, will be launched later in 2022 to support farmer-led projects to test the viability of new innovations on the farm.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Jo Churchill said:

Innovation is vital to meeting the challenges facing the agriculture and horticultural sectors. New ideas, technologies and processes will play a key role in helping farmers, producers and businesses become more productive.

The agricultural innovation agenda will enable the sector to be more sustainable and environmentally resilient, while helping it achieve its net zero ambitions. I encourage all eligible businesses and individuals to apply.

The Agriculture Innovation Program extends Defra’s partnership with UKRI for the recent Farming Innovation Pathways competition, which saw huge demand from the sector and attracted many high-quality applications to innovate in the horticulture and agriculture industry, when it launched earlier this year.

Defra today announced the new projects which have won a share of this Β£ 14.5million funding for agricultural innovation pathways. The winning projects will help help businesses and researchers transform food production, meet growing demand for UK food products and help the sector move towards net zero emissions. The winning candidates are now able to develop their ideas, including:

  • a fruit detection robot that monitors crop growth stages, up to determining optimum fruit maturity, size and picking time, to enable farmers to maximize production and yields
  • a model of using soldier flies to create low-cost, high-protein animal feed from agricultural waste, allowing farmers to recover value from otherwise unusable waste. It also promotes circular farming practices in which resources are transformed into new end-of-life products.
  • a new approach to protect vegetable seeds against pests and pathogens without the use of pesticides. This would help farmers improve the germination, growth and yield of vegetables through a combination of techniques such as laser treatment and natural disinfectants.
  • a method of growing fruits and vegetables that harnesses natural daylight to improve the nutritional and taste characteristics of crops. This would improve the sustainability, productivity and competitiveness of national fruit and vegetable cultivation compared to conventional greenhouse production. It will also extend the production season and eliminate the need for pesticides in production.

UKRI Challenge Director for the TFP Challenge, Katrina Hayter, said:

As the UK prepares to host COP26 in November, it’s time we can unveil so many great projects in the vital area of ​​agriculture that will help us meet our net zero goals.

Working closely with farmers in the innovation process means that urgent challenges are identified. Solving these challenges will maximize productivity, reduce emissions, and make our farms more resilient and sustainable.

More information on Defra’s new funds can be found on the Future Farming blog and on the UKRI’s dedicated webpage.


From October 2021:

  • Research Start-Up Projects – To help farmers and producers with bold and ambitious start-up ideas develop them further and build a collaborative team – for those who have not yet received Innovate UK funding

  • Feasibility projects – To test the feasibility of solutions at an early stage and to inform decisions on subsequent larger-scale R&D projects

  • Small R&D partnership projects – To carry out R&D for innovative solutions that have the potential to significantly improve the overall productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector

From spring 2022:

  • Large R&D Partnership Projects – Launched in early 2022, this will provide funding for larger scale R&D and demonstration of solutions that have the potential to dramatically improve the overall productivity, sustainability and resilience of the sector
  • each competition within the R&D Partnership Fund will offer different funding scales. Project teams will be able to apply for grants to cover the full costs of the project, while providing part of their own co-financing.
  • the competitions will be open to applications for 5 to 6 weeks, with different closing dates for each competition.
  • video recordings of candidate briefings are available on the competition pages.
  • more information on the new competitions and how to get involved can be found on the UKRI website
  • more information will follow in the coming months on other funds available in the program, including the Farming Futures R&D Fund and the Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund


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