New funding is part of £600m commitment to innovation and productivity in farming

More than £14 million is to be made available to unlock innovation and develop solutions in the farming sector in two new research and feasibility competitions under the Farming Innovation Programme, Defra has announced.

The move is part of a government commitment to invest £600m in innovation and productivity in the sector over three years, and adds further support to the development and take-up of innovative practices on farms to boost productivity and sustainability while meeting net-zero targets.

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

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

New guidance published

Defra has 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 £10m, 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 one combining generation of electricity with growing berries to power operational processes such as automated picking, sensors and vehicles.

It comes alongside new guidance for a £4.5m Feasibility Studies competition which aims to support businesses and researchers through the difficult testing phase of an idea, checking whether it works in practice and helping them assess whether to invest in a project.

It looks for early-stage solutions that have the potential to substantially improve the overall productivity, sustainability and resilience of farming, and move existing agricultural sectors to net zero.

Successful applicants in previous rounds include a study to identify fungal strains that can help fight against insect and fungal pests in wheat crops, reducing the costs associated with multiple applications of chemical pesticides, mechanical damage from repeated spray applications and crop yield losses.

Farmers, growers, foresters, research organisations and businesses are encouraged to read the guidance ahead of applications opening.

Applications for the Small R&D Partnerships competition open on 14 August and the Feasibility Studies competition window is open from 18 September.