Future farm technology will help meet net-zero goals

UK government’s Farming Innovation Pathways competition provides funding for future farm technology.

The latest winners to be awarded a total £14.5m funding through the Farming Innovation Pathways competition have been announced. The competition is a partnership between UKRI’s Transforming Food Production (TFP) challenge and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Farming Innovation Programme (FIP).

The winning projects

Antobot

In this Chelmsford based project, Antobot will be creating a fruit-scouting robot that utilises AI to provide a range of crop data and insights so that farmers can maximise yields.

Inspro

Based in Surrey and Cambridgeshire, Inspro will employ the well-established process of bio conversion using black soldier flies to produce protein-rich animal feed from food waste, in an innovative, dispersed ‘hub and spoke’ business model that brings the process to the substrate to minimise food waste miles, and utilises the output of feed and frass as locally as possible to establish ‘local nutrient circularity’.

Muddy Machines

Based in London, Muddy Machines, together with Barfoots of Botley (Bognor Regis), will be researching the viability of developing a robot technology to harvest Tenderstem broccoli, thus helping to mitigate potential shortages of agricultural labour.

Microbiotech

Based in Pershore, Microbiotech is leading a consortium of growers, scientists and engineers that aim to replace peat with planting materials derived from coir (a low-carbon substitute) to grow mushrooms and salad vegetables.

Tozer seeds

In this Surrey-based project, Tozer seeds and their associates from around the UK will be creating an alternative to pesticides that utilises lasers and bioactive compounds to treat vegetable seeds.

Developing a sustainable sector

Jo Churchill, Minister of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Science & Innovation, explained: “Innovation is a vital way to address the challenges currently 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. They will also enable the sector to be more environmentally sustainable and resilient, whilst helping it achieve its net-zero ambitions.”

Katrina Hayter, UKRI Challenge Director for the TFP challenge, said: “As the UK gets ready to host COP26 in November, it is timely that we can unveil so many great projects in the vital area of agriculture that will help meet our net-zero goals.

“Working closely with farmers in the innovation process means that pressing challenges are identified. Solving these challenges will result in maximising productivity, reducing emissions, and making our farms more resilient and sustainable.”

Research and development funding

As well as this, Defra has revealed a novel funding programme to assist farmers, growers, foresters and other businesses to innovate through Research & Development (R&D).

In collaboration with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), Defra is making £17.5m available for R&D through the Industry-led R&D Partnerships fund, which is the first of three to open in the Farming Innovation Programme.

The programme will encourage the development of bold R&D projects to enhance productivity and environmental sustainability in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors, whilst aiding them in their journey to accomplish their net-zero ambitions.

The Farming Innovation Programme develops on the success of UKRI’s £90m Transforming Food Production (TFP) challenge, and expands on Defra’s partnership with UKRI for the Farming Innovation Pathways competition.

Farming Innovation Programme

The ambitious objective of this competition is to assist the development of new innovations to ascertain a more efficient, durable, and sustainable agricultural sector.

This funding is delivered through the UKRI’s Transforming Food Production programme, in partnership with Defra.

This development is attained through the investment of up to £5m in feasibility studies and £9.5m in industrial research.

Projects are required to focus on one or more high priority areas in at least one of four industry subsectors: livestock, plant, novel food production systems, or bioeconomy and agroforestry.

Project proposals must engage with farmers, growers, or producers to create farm-focused solutions. These solutions should resolve the short to long-term challenges of efficiency, sustainability, and net-zero emissions.

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