UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has launched a challenge to help farmers reduce pollution and boost food production through new technologies.
The government investment, through UKRI, is aimed at the integrated use of new digital technologies, sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. Its goal is to help meet the challenge of climate change and getting the agricultural sector on track to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
Under the latest round of the Transforming Food Production Challenge, which opened on 16 September, £20 million of funding is on offer for future food production systems that have the potential to transform current methods of production by improving sustainability and productivity.
Innovative ideas that have won funding under similar previous government schemes include a project to produce a prototype for a soft-fruit picking robot, which would reduce the need for seasonal fruit-picking labour, and a project called Tuberscan, which will scan potatoes underground ensuring they can be harvested at the right time.
Peter Kendall, who chairs the AHDB and UKRI’s Transforming Food Production advisory group, said: “Equipping UK agriculture for the coming century of climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector and the application of the latest technology, including robotics and AI is a major part of the way forward.
“We welcome the government’s current support for innovation in the sector and encourage farmers and other entrepreneurs to look into the offer of funding.”
Challenge director of UKRI Transforming Food Production, Katrina Hayter, added:
“The UK needs to become more efficient and environmentally sustainable in the food it produces. By harnessing the best of British bright ideas, we can improve productivity, open up new markets and help meet the nation’s ambitious net zero emissions target.
“This competition is a great opportunity to showcase fantastic innovations that will help transform agriculture across the UK.”
The group said it would particularly welcome “large-scale ambitious and integrated projects” in future food production systems.
Two other schemes will also open shortly. One will invite joint projects from the UK and China with a focus on autonomous technologies such as sensors, systems, vehicles and robotics to enhance productivity and sustainability.
These projects will aim to reduce emissions from agriculture, contributing to the target of net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040. The competition will open on 7 October.
The second competition is called Science into Technology and Practice and aims to strengthen ties between farmers, researchers and businesses to develop approaches to improve productivity. It will support projects that will transform food production and opens for application from 28 October.
All of this investment in new resource-efficient, low-emission production systems is part of the government’s commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. The fund will also help businesses and researchers to meet the needs of a growing population.