New government scheme aims to support projects around sustainable food production

Small and medium-sized farming businesses will soon be able to apply for a share of £5 million in grant funding to scale up innovation in the agriculture sector to increase sustainable food production, drive progress to net zero, improve farm resilience and support nature recovery.

Opening later this month, the Farming Innovation Investor Partnership Competition will accelerate agricultural research and development by blending grant funding with private investment.

It specifically seeks to support pioneering projects across the agricultural sector that have demonstrated the potential to grow and generate revenue, supporting the commercialisation of on-farm technologies that can then be rolled out across the industry.

It represents an extension of the £270m Farming Innovation Programme which has already committed over £100m to support earlier-stage R&D projects working on cutting-edge agricultural technologies. Examples of these projects include autonomous livestock monitoring systems, robotic fruit harvesting systems, concentrated light weeding using AI, intelligent robotic cow cubicles and digital crop management for the early detection of glasshouse pests and diseases.

Projects are encouraged to apply from across the livestock, arable, horticulture, bioeconomy and agroforestry sectors and should focus on solutions that support productivity, environmental sustainability, progression towards net-zero emissions and farming resilience. Projects can bid for up to 45 per cent of project costs in grant funding, which must be matched by at least twice the amount in private investment.

There is no limit to the level of private investment for projects, and previous schemes have shown the ability to attract significantly higher levels of investment.

’Delivering on commitments’

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: ”Supporting a resilient, sustainable and innovative agriculture sector that puts food on our tables while safeguarding the environment is my priority, and we are working with farmers to deliver this through our new farming schemes and grants.

”By bringing together cutting-edge agri-innovation and public and private investment, we can unlock new technologies that help make our farm businesses as productive as possible.

”This contributes to the delivery of the Prime Minister’s priority to grow the economy and follows the first ever ‘Nature Finance’ event held at 10 Downing Street in June which brought together farmers, land managers, investors and conservation experts to help farmers identify new investment opportunities and address barriers to mobilise private investment for nature’s recovery.

”It also delivers on commitments made at the UK Farm to Fork Summit in May to boost growth, innovation and improve sustainability across the food supply chain in order to keep the nation fed while delivering nature recovery for our countryside.”

The competition is funded by Defra, and run in partnership with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) and delivered by Innovate UK. It opens for applications on Monday 24 July. 

In order to apply, projects must be led by a sole UK-registered micro, small, or medium-sized business and exhibit clear and tangible connections to farmers, growers, agri-businesses, and other potential end-users. Investors for the programme will be selected from the pool of Innovate UK Investor Partners, which currently comprises 80 partners and growing.