Blue Planet II and Muddy Machines are among projects aiming to boost horticultural production

Muddy Machines' CTO Chris Chavasse presenting one of the company's robots, Sprout

Muddy Machines’ CTO Chris Chavasse presenting one of the company’s robots, Sprout

Agri-robots to help speed up vegetable harvests and automation to increase fruit crop yields are two of the research and development projects to have won funding through the Farming Innovation Programme,the government has announced.

Details of the new projects comes as further support was announced for farmers and growers with novel ideas to help grow food production, encourage sustainable practices and increase productivity, with the next rounds of the Feasibility Projects and the Small R&D Partnership Project competitions due to open shortly.

The £16.5 million of funding will help drive innovation in agriculture and horticulture and is part of the government’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme, Defra said. It is run in partnership with UK Research and Innovation, building upon the Transforming Food Production challenge.

Farming innovation minister Steve Double said: ”We want to help unlock greater potential in our already brilliant farming and horticulture sector. Today’s first round of projects demonstrate how - with the right funding and support - there are great productivity and environmental sustainability gains to be made.

”Our £270m investment in farming innovation is designed to help take the UK’s world-leading research ideas and turn them into practical solutions to support healthy soils, abundant pollinators and clean water alongside profitable food production.”

New ideas and collaboration

The Farming Innovation Programme aims to spark new ideas and collaboration across the sector to address long-term challenges such as producing nutritious food more efficiently while helping the sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net-zero goals. Farmers, growers, foresters, businesses and researchers are being invited to collaborate and submit applications for these two new competitions.

A £5.5 million competition for ‘Feasibility projects’ will offer grants for projects worth between £200,000 and £500,000 to support research and development through the difficult testing phase of an idea to see if it is worth investing in further.

Winners of the ‘Small R&D Partnership’ competition, meanwhile, will receive a share of the £11m grant funding for industrial research projects worth between £1m and £3m to further develop new solutions that will ultimately address major on-farm or immediate post farmgate challenges or opportunities such as enhancing productivity and sustainability.

Details of the successful applications from the first round of Small R&D Partnership Projects, Feasibility Projects and Research Starter Projects, that were launched in October 2021 were shared by UKRI this week. These include Blue Planet II, a new project which aims to build upon its highly successful autonomous technology to further increase fruit crop yield and quality; and a new project from ‘Muddy Machines’, whose agri-robot concepts aim to speed up vegetable harvesting with sustainability and reliability at their core.

Altogether Defra expects to spend around £600m on grants and other support for farmers to invest in productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, research and development over the next three years.