In partnership with UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has launched a new long-term funding programme to support farmers, growers, foresters and other businesses to embrace innovative new ways to maximise productivity and drive sustainability.

The Farming Innovation Programme, one of the new measures set out in the Government’s Agricultural Transition Plan, will support ambitious projects to transform productivity and enhance environmental sustainability in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors, whilst driving the sectors towards net zero.

On the 20th October Defra made £17.5 million available for the first round of the three funds which make up the Programme.

The first fund to open is the ‘Industry-led R&D Partnerships Fund’, where farmers, growers, foresters and businesses can bid for funding to develop new technologies and practices that will ‘help them overcome challenges and exploit new opportunities in the sector’ including the use of artificial intelligence and low-emission machineries to optimise the production process, and the development of climate-resilient crops.

Early next year, Defra will launch the ‘Farming Futures R&D Fund’, for strategic projects aimed at tackling climate change by reducing the environmental impact of farming.

The third round of funding, called ‘Projects to Accelerate Adoption Fund’, will launch later in 2022 to support farmer-led projects to trial the viability of new innovations on farm.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Jo Churchill, commented on the new funding programme: “Innovation is vital to address the challenges 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.

“The Farming Innovation Programme will enable the sector to be more environmentally sustainable and resilient, whilst helping it achieve its net zero ambitions. I encourage all eligible businesses and individuals to apply.”

The Farming Innovation Programme expands on Defra’s partnership with UKRI for the recent Farming Innovation Pathways competition which launched earlier this year.

The new projects that have won a share of this £14.5m Farming Innovation Pathways funding were announced to include: A fruit-scouting robot that monitors the growth-stages of crops; A model to use soldier flies to create a low-cost, protein-rich animal feed from farm waste, enabling farmers to recover value from otherwise unusable waste; A new approach to protect vegetable seeds against parasites and pathogens without the use of pesticides; and a fruit and vegetable growing method which harnesses natural daylight to boost the nutritional and flavour characteristics of crops.

UKRI challenge director for the TFP challenge, Katrina Hayter, 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.”