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A new long-term funding programme to support farmers, growers, foresters and other businesses to embrace innovative ways to maximise productivity and drive sustainability has... Innovation programme to boost future of farming

A new long-term funding programme to support farmers, growers, foresters and other businesses to embrace innovative ways to maximise productivity and drive sustainability has opened for applications.

The Farming Innovation Programme will support ambitious projects to transform productivity and enhance environmental sustainability in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors, while helping to meet net zero targets.

Defra has made £17.5m available for the first round of the three funds which make up the Programme. The fund opened for applications on 20 October. Further funding is likely at a future date.

The first fund to open is the industry-led R&D Partnerships Fund. Farmers can bid for funding to develop new technologies and practices that will help them overcome challenges and exploit new opportunitie.

Eligible applications include funding for the use of artificial intelligence and low-emission machineries to optimise the production process – and the development of climate-resilient crops.

Early next year, Defra will launch the Farming Futures R&D Fund. This is for strategic projects aimed at tackling climate change by reducing the environmental impact of food production agriculture.

The third of the funds – the Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund – will launch later in 2022. It will to support farmer-led projects to trial the viability of new on-farm innovations and technology.

Defra minister Jo Churchill, said: “Innovation is vital to address the challenges facing the agricultural and horticultural sectors. New ideas, technologies and processes will play a key role in helping farmers, growers and businesses to become more productive.

Net zero

“The Farming Innovation Programme will enable the sector to be more environmentally sustainable and resilient, whilst helping it achieve its net zero ambitions. I encourage all eligible businesses and individuals to apply.”

The Farming Innovation Programme expands on the recent £14.5m Farming Innovation Pathways competition. It saw huge demand and high-quality applications to innovate the horticulture and farming industry, when launched earlier this year.

The winning projects will contribute to helping businesses and researchers transform food production, meet the growing demand for British food, and help the sector to move towards net zero emissions.

Defra has also confirmed the projects which will receive funding under the Farming Innovation Pathways funding. Winning applicants are now able to develop their ideas. They include: 

• a fruit-scouting robot that monitors the growth-stages of crops, up to determining fruit ripeness, size and optimal picking time

• a model to use soldier flies to create a low-cost, protein-rich animal feed from farm waste

• a new approach to protect vegetable seeds against parasites and pathogens without the use of pesticides.

• a fruit and vegetable growing method which harnesses natural daylight to boost the nutritional and flavour characteristics of crops. 

UKRI challenge director Katrina Hayter said: “Solving these challenges will result in maximising productivity, reducing emissions, and making our farms more resilient and sustainable.

Further information on the new funds is available via Defra’s Future Farming Blog at defrafarming.blog.gov.uk.