£11m funding announced to further support food sector innovation

Farmer counts yields on a computer

The winners of £11 million funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Farming Innovation Programme, are now confirmed.

This funding has been allocated to the Small Research and Development (R&D) Partnerships and Research Starter Pilot competitions.

Small R&D Partnerships

The Small R&D Partnerships competition, managed by UK Research and Innovation’s Transforming Food Production (TFP) challenge, ran from October to December 2021. The TFP challenge is delivered by Innovate UK.

Its aim was to fund industrial research studies that are developing new solutions to address major on-farm or immediate post farmgate challenges and opportunities.

Applications had to focus on sustainability, resilience, productivity and net zero ambitions, covering at least one agricultural sector from:

  • livestock
  • plant
  • novel food production systems
  • bioeconomy
  • forestry.

Successful projects

Nine projects were successful following our review and assessment of the applications. The projects covered a wide breadth of areas, tackling challenges for different food stakeholders.

They include Farmsense’s use of sensor technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to optimise welfare analysis in pigs, and the CowView project, a hands-free health monitoring tool that replaces wearable devices in cows.

Away from animals, the Project Blue Planet II aims to build upon its technology predecessor to continue to increase fruit crop yield and quality.

The Muddy Machines agri-robot concept, which aims to speed up vegetable harvesting with sustainability and reliability at its core, was also successful.

Research Starter Pilot

The Research Starter Pilot competition opened in October 2021. Following our review, we backed various successful applicants for early stage at farmgate ideas from farmers, growers and foresters to solve major problems facing their business.

Recipients of the initial funding come from projects from across the farming and growing sector, from crops and forestry, to livestock, soil and water solutions.

Successful projects include Chiltern Hills Farm’s digital infrastructure to support strategic decision making in vineyards, and Soil Benchmark’s data-sharing solutions for farmers to collaborate on measuring and monitoring soil health.

Other recipients include Trefranck Farm’s animal welfare-focused project for tackling resistance and tolerance of harmful gut worms in sheep.

Also successful was the Mowbrey partnership’s plan to develop automated insect feeding systems to enhance productivity and welfare results in poultry farms.

More funding announced

This latest funding comes after the recent announcement of £8 million in funding for feasibility projects, looking to back new innovative solutions, new research and partnerships.

The competition required projects to demonstrate the benefits the concept would generate, as well as how collaboration between farmers, businesses and researchers could be enhanced. After our assessment, 25 projects successfully secured part of the overall funding.

Further funding opportunities of £16.5 million under the Farming Innovation Programme continue in 2022, with the launch of round two of the Feasibility and Small R&D Partnerships competitions.

More details can be found on the Innovation Funding Service website.

Innovation across the food sector

TFP challenge Director, Katrina Hayter, said:

You only need look at the sheer breadth of projects that have received funding to see there are so many opportunities for innovation across the food sector.

From animal health to crop productivity, the introduction of strategic support technology and the precise application of chemicals, it’s exciting to see so many concepts beginning to come to life.

When brought together, it shows how the whole food system can benefit from new ideas, with knowledge-sharing and collaboration at its core. We are keen to ensure farmers and growers remain at the heart of projects.

This helps bring their valuable real-life experiences to the project consortia to ensure each innovation stays focused on improving the day-to-day challenges faced by the food sector. We now look forward to supporting these projects further as they develop.

Further information

Small R&D Partnership projects competition winners

TuberNetZero: developing practical guidance and evidence of sustainable practices, working towards a net-zero potato supply chain

Project cost: £1,456,634

Lead: Branston Ltd

The TuberNetZero project brings together big players within the UK’s potato supply chain in partnership to develop genuine, practical, commercially viable low-carbon solutions for growing, storing, and transporting potatoes, without compromising quality.

NetFLOX-XXL: transforming chicken farming with scalable, automated welfare indexing and environmental footprinting

Project cost: £998,336

Lead: Flox Ltd

NetFLOX-XXL, an AI-powered remote broiler farm management system, will use advanced AI to improve productivity, sustainability, and resilience in the broiler industry.

This project will build a scalable industrial demonstrator system (NetFLOX-XXL), thereby helping the industry to improve welfare outcomes and move closer to net zero.

Developing a herd of electric robots for horticulture

Project cost: £1,160,397

Lead: Muddy Machines Ltd (MM)

This collaborative project between MM and its grower collaborators will develop and demonstrate a working herd of harvesting agri-robots able to harvest vegetables in-field sustainably and reliably.

It will overcome challenges in safety, harvest-planning, communication and display.

Smart sprayer for black-grass mapping and resistance monitoring

Project cost: £1,452,614

Lead: Robert Bosch Ltd

This project will develop, build, and evaluate a camera-equipped self-propelled sprayer for black-grass mapping and precision patch- or spot-spraying.

The project will use AI to identify weeds and generate precise weed maps to develop bespoke recommendations of herbicide choice and variable-rate application of pre- and post-emergence herbicides.

The sentinel crop disease surveillance network

Project cost: £746,271

Lead: G’s Fresh Limited

Airborne pathogens infect cereal and horticultural crops reducing the yield per hectare. While their impact can be mitigated by the use of fungicides, these must be used responsibly and sustainably.

This project creates a solution comprising several, identical sensing devices located in the field of crops. The data from each sensor provides an early warning of the presence of the pathogen, which is turned into a recommended management plan for the farmer or grower.

Blue Planet II

Project cost: £870,621

Lead: S&A Produce (UK) Ltd

Project Blue Planet II builds on the success of project Blue Planet (BP). In under two years, BP was able to design, develop and trial a wholly novel and world-first, autonomous platform to perform to maintain overall plant health, fruit quality and yield.

Through developing automated technology incorporating machine vision systems, the project will improve crop yield and quality of fruits benefiting the farmer and improving the flavour and consistency of fruits.

Transformation change through zero carbon fertilisers: scale-up and delivery to UK fertiliser market

Project cost: £981,592

Lead: CCm Technologies Ltd

This project will scale up fertiliser production of the 10 nitrogen (10N) CCm fertiliser formulation to trial at two commercial farms.

Application of the 10N on commercial food production farms will demonstrate efficacy of the CCm fertiliser in a ‘real’ commercial spreading environment to provide field and operational data to accelerate farmer adoption.

CCm will use results generated to accelerate commercial partnerships to allow CCm to supply its fertilisers within the UK organo-mineral fertiliser market.

CowView: autonomous livestock monitoring system

Project cost: £1,105,434

Lead: Cattle Eye Ltd

CattleEye is developing a novel way to gaining insights into dairy cows. The completely hands-free solution will monitor a cow’s welfare and performance without the need for wearable devices.

The new version CowView will advance the product, to enable lesion detection, increase accuracy and offer data so intervention can be timely.

FarmSense: ensuring sustainability of pig farming with automated monitoring using machine vision and volatile organic compound sensors

Project cost: £785,554

Lead: Innovent Technology Ltd

FarmSense is an intelligent user-friendly platform that brings together state-of-the-art image and sensor technologies combined with AI. It supports farmers and their advisors in optimising livestock production whilst assuring the highest animal welfare standards.

FarmSense’s smart monitoring system continuously analyses animal growth, behaviour and gas profiles along with the animal’s day and night patterns.

The AI system learns how to automatically detect any changes in pattern indicating problems such as:

  • early disease onset
  • tail biting
  • abnormal eating or drinking behaviours.

The system then delivers early on-screen alerts and prompts to farm workers.

Research Starter Pilot competition winners

Viticulture 4.0: the digital infrastructure

Project cost: £49,152 project cost

Lead: Chiltern Hills Farm Ltd

This project aims to provide integrated digital solutions to enable planning and mapping of all vineyard infrastructure during design, construction and planting.

This will maximise use of land and terrain features and minimise the capital costs of equipment and planting. The optimal planning of vineyard layouts will enable efficient operations using latest equipment and husbandry techniques.

The mapping data can be used to integrate future automated control and operational systems and to support crop monitoring, crop maintenance and yield optimisation.

Robotic arable polyculture farming

Project cost: £49,280

Lead: NP Holloway and Son

This project will investigate use of polycultures in arable farming to overcome the challenges pest, disease and nutrient challenges of arable monocultures.

Challenges that make monocultures dependent on expensive agricultural inputs that often have detrimental environmental impacts.

Polyculture, a field with two or more plant species, can alleviate some of these impacts, however the lack of crop science research and specific machinery available to farm them is limiting their potential.

This project aims to identify the best arable crop species combinations for an environmentally friendly and economically viable polyculture in England. At the same time it will investigate the opportunity that autonomous robotics can offer to establish, manage and harvest polycultures that cannot be achieved by conventional mechanisation.

Supporting collaboration through innovative water sharing tool for high-value irrigated agriculture

Project cost: £42,559

Lead: Lindsay Hargreaves Ltd

The existing abstraction licensing system in England for water to irrigate high value agricultural and horticultural crops results in inefficiencies in the utilisation of water.

This project aims to investigate collaborative water sharing between individual growers without the high transactional costs of water trading.

This study aims to develop a proof-of-concept application that connects and supports farm businesses in water sharing. It uses irrigated businesses in the Lark catchment in Eastern England as a case study to practically demonstrate the benefits of empowering irrigators with data to identify their water sharing decisions.

It will promote efficient allocation of water to reduce pumping costs and support sector targets for net zero carbon.

Soil Benchmark

Project cost: £45,686

Lead: Soil Benchmark

Soil degradation is a real concern to English farmers. Current sampling operations do not inform farmers how to improve soils and how this improvement can be measured.

Whilst many soil samples are taken, there is no system to share and compare the data to provide feedback to wider farm population or to provide information for environmental monitoring or to food chain regulators.

Soil Benchmark’s ambition is to provide useful benchmarking and ‘soil health-checks’ for farmers in return for the sharing of their data. They will integrate with contextual data such as rainfall, temperature and soil types to further interpret the ‘raw’ soil data.

This project will bring together the expertise and datasets of National Institute of Agricultural Botany, ADAS, and the British Geological Survey. The project will also conduct interviews with farmers to gain more data to help guide the development.

Grown Graphene

Project cost: £48,166

Lead: ATG Turnbull Ltd

This project aims to overcome a key hurdle in making graphene from plants. A renewable source for graphene is considered to be the only way to make enough material for the worldwide requirement for bulk applications.

This project has identified a new process to make graphene from plants. The project will complete a professional materials analysis of the end product plus a sustainability lifecycle analysis.

The project could lead to a carbon capture bioeconomy opportunity as English farmers could grow bast crops such as flax, for high return material, to feed UK manufacturing and capture carbon at the same time.

Agroforestry pollinator plantations

Project cost: £42,406

Lead: Bee Happy Plants and Seeds

Climate change presents challenges for all plants and soil. There is limited guidance on planting trees for the future, and shortages of planting stock.

These are particular problems for pollinator tree or shrub species in agroforestry. This project aims to understand how climate stress will affect tree species and which tree and shrub species growing in the UK will be suitable for future climates and which may be lost.

The project aims to identify suitable novel species for future conditions that can perform role of pollinators to replace lost species, plus provide potential new products to support pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The overall aim is to provide guidance for future successful tree planting.

Establishing an organic field scale forest nursery under Soil Association organic standards

Project cost: £45,993

Lead: Woodhall Growers Ltd

The path to net zero requires increasing UK woodland planting, however current UK production of trees seedlings cannot meet current or forecast demand. Additionally, many pesticides previously used are no longer available to support production.

This project will create a one hectare tree nursery to assess:

  • germination
  • plant health
  • plant yield
  • cost of growing trees under Soil Association organic standards using biobased soil conditioners
  • seed treatments
  • the use of solar crop growing technology.

The project will include economic analysis of the organic tree nursery market and will demonstrate and report on this commercial opportunity for other farmers.

Breeding for tolerance to worms for the future of sheep farming in England

Project cost: £43,663

Lead: M and P Smith, Trefranck Farm

This project will explore the potential to exploit any genetic trait that gives some sheep better resistance or tolerance to gut-worms so that use of commercial wormer products can be reduced or removed.

This will lower input and labour costs and will also reduce animal stress and environmental impacts associated with worming.

The project will complete benchmark comparison testing between two groups of lambs ‘with’ and ‘without’ use of wormers. It will monitor their growth rates and their health and welfare to identify if some animals can maintain growth rate and health at an economic rate without use of wormer.

An environmental model for developing novel integrated pest management techniques for control of swede midge in brassicas

Project cost: £29,621

Lead: T Hammond Farms Ltd

This project will develop an environmental model using global information system to understand how landscape and crop history factors influence pest pressure of the first and second generations of swede midge.

The model will be useful to conventional and organic growers alike to help inform crop protection decision making and planning.

The project will assess swede midge pest pressure with the use of mesh crop covers. This will determine whether the midges are emerging from the soil in the current brassica field or flying into the crop from another source.

The project will help to design effective novel agro-ecological control strategies based on knowledge of swede midge biology and behaviour, such as trap cropping or use of suppressive cover crops.

Development of an automated insect feeding system into a commercial laying poultry farm

Project cost: £49,280

Lead: Mowbrey Partnership

This project will investigate and develop automated feeding systems to enable the incorporation of insects as a protein source into the diet of laying hen poultry farms.

Feasibility projects competition winners

Project high speed header (HSH): next generation combines

Project cost: £394,693

Lead: Eyre Trailers Ltd

Project HSH will develop a novel tractor mounted combine harvesting implement. This simple innovation significantly reduces harvester mass enabling a flexible tractor mounted system.

It is an ambitious and transformational idea with reduced financial cost and environmental impact. HSH is delivered by Eyre Trailers, agricultural engineers and HSH inventors, in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Agri Food Technology.

Robotic courgette harvester

Project cost: £251,647

Lead: Muddy Machines Ltd (MM)

This project is an important step on MM’s journey to develop a completely novel class of agricultural machine that can reliably replace manual labour to address the needs of UK growers.

MM already has built and successfully field-tested an autonomous asparagus harvest robot the platform of which can be used in this project.

Exploiting soil microbiomes for development of natural fungicides targeting P. infestans

Project cost: £290,264

Lead: Bactobio Ltd

The project’s aim is to provide growers with more effective, more sustainable options for crop protection against late blight and to safeguard England’s potato industry into the future.

This ambition aligns with UK plant science research strategy to develop better, greener soil management practices. It will support farmers in achieving the UK’s ambitions to boost productivity and reduce the environmental impact of farming for sustainable potato production.

Increasing productivity and sustainability in UK viticulture: investigating the potential impact of groundcover management practices on soil health, yields and juice quality, and emissions

Project cost: £373,893

Lead: Gusbourne Estate Ltd

Project outputs will include evidence-based recommendations for growers on the best ground management approaches to suit UK vineyards.

The project proposes to carry out the first full-scale experiments and commercial trials of cover cropping and mechanical weeding strategies in UK vineyards. It aims to identify and tailor optimal soil management approaches for the UK industry.

Industry-wide uptake of these practices would demonstrate to the public, the horticultural sector and retailers that the viticulture industry is committed to achieving environmental and net zero goals.

PERP-ID: on farm point-of-care diagnostic for the porcine respiratory disease complex

Project cost: £366,379

Lead: ProtonDX Ltd

This project is developing a test that can rapidly and cheaply detect major bacterial and viral lung pathogens of pigs that can be used for on-farm detection.

The PorcinE Respiratory Pathogen-Identification (PERP-ID) device is designed to identify the five bacterial and three major viral lung pathogens of pigs. It is based on an electronic system developed by ProtonDx that can rapidly detect the presence of specific DNA molecules.

The aim of the project is to substantially reduce suffering, death, antibiotic use, and economic losses in the UK and worldwide pig industry.

Sustainable, low impact fertilisers for agriculture

Project cost: £390,623

Lead: Stopford Projects Ltd

This project seeks to formulate and trial balanced nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilisers with trace elements. This is done by combining and processing residues from the bio-energy, agricultural and waste management sectors that offers performance akin to conventional manufactured fertiliser.

Sourcing nutrients from waste materials presents a cost-effective opportunity to maintain primary productivity whilst decarbonising farming through avoidance of energy intensive mineral based fertilisers.

Development of multimodal rumen monitoring platform for cattle to improve productivity, sustainability and resilience

Project cost: £227,476

Lead: Raft Solutions Ltd

This project will target individual animal treatment by creating a low-cost rumen monitoring platform.

This will incorporate multiple sensing elements in a single device that includes unique biofouling mitigation methods to navigate the environment of the rumen microbiome.

Hoofcount vision detection for early signs of DD lesions and lameness within dairy cattle

Project cost: £418,092

Lead: Hoofcount Ltd

This project is researching the development of an early detection lameness monitoring system, utilising computer vision and computer learning methods.

Detecting and treating these issues at an early stage is beneficial to animal health and preventing severe lameness, which leads to:

  • a lower production
  • increased veterinary and treatment costs
  • reduced animal welfare
  • a higher carbon footprint.

Green Laryxine

Project cost: £344,520

Lead: Bioextractions Wales Ltd

This project aims to create an effective treatment against downy mildew fungal disease and reduce the use of copper-based products on vineyards.

The project plans to use UK larch bark to produce an organic agrochemical to treat English vineyards. In addition, it aims to export abroad while providing a higher value outlet for larch bark for the UK timber industry.

DeCyst: factors affecting trap crop success against potato cyst nematode (PCN)

Project cost: £183,482

Lead: Greenvale AP Ltd

The aim of this project is to improve on the current knowledge of ‘DeCyst’ solanaceous trap crops, and how they are best utilized for PCN control by potato growers in England and the wider UK.

In addition to improving establishment techniques, the project aims to look at the use of new species of DeCyst trap crops. It will investigate the opportunity to grow them in between existing crops in the rotation without the need for substitution. This will unlock the potential for use of trap crops as autumn and winter cover crops.

Together this will inform a new grower guide to DeCyst trap crops and how they fit best in an integrated approach to PCN control.

Advanced aeroponics: supercharging horticultural productivity

Project cost: £347,550

Lead: LettUs Grow Ltd

The project will include the design and prototype manufacture of an advanced aeroponic rolling bench system.

This system will be used for two trials set out to demonstrate:

  • productivity increase
  • flexibility of growing
  • the improved resource efficiency of advanced aeroponics (energy, labour, water, nutrients).

This aims to solve grower challenges of competing on cost with imported fresh produce, while achieving net zero for the sector.

Project crystal ball: predict and preserve profitability of orchards

Project cost: £266,754

Lead: Yagro Ltd

This project will integrate yield and quality estimates on the developing crops based on drone surveys, with detailed commercial intelligence.

This will provide farmers with market-level information, enabling them to understand the commercial value of their changing forecasts.

By linking data on production costs to date with quality requirements and end-market prices, they will be able to assess their current position, the need for action and the risk involved.

FORBUG: Development of pheromones for innovative management of forest bug, an emerging pest of orchards in England

Project cost: £191,817

Lead: AgroVista UK Ltd

This project aims to identify and synthesise species-specific pheromones for forest bug that will provide innovative approaches for monitoring and controlling this pest.

In addition, the development of synthetic pheromones will make it possible to develop non-pesticidal control options in the future, including mass trapping and mating disruption.

These approaches will help reduce the need for conventional, chemical insecticides that disrupt integrated pest management programmes and potentially harm the environment.

Upcycled foods: getting the goodness out of Kent cherries

Project cost: £318,993

Lead: Rentacherrytree Ltd

This project will innovate agricultural food production by using cherry waste to create new foods rich in compounds with health benefits that reduce agricultural waste, increase sustainability and promote health.

The project aims to work with the University of Kent to determine the levels of anthocyanins and their health properties, in our cherry products.

HerdView: automated weight tracking for beef cattle

Project cost: £152,582

Lead: Agsenze Ltd

The HerdView project will assess the feasibility of adapting Agsenze technology to create an automated system that gives accurate daily weights to track daily cow growth.

It aims to and predict weight, grade and fat information for beef cattle, thereby enabling farmers to better manage feeding while reducing effort and animal distress as well as reducing costs.

Growing media for the future: production of sphagnum for high-quality, sustainable and peat-free substrate

Project cost: £379,082

Lead: Micropropogation Services (E.M.) Ltd

This project will develop a method for producing sphagnum moss at scale for commercial processing into sustainable growing media. There will be a particular focus on producing quality sterile growing media for vegetable seedlings, hydroponics and vertical farming.

Our growing media will enable the horticultural sector to achieve the target of eliminating peat-based composts by 2030 and could also replace rockwool.

Taking commercial apple production to net zero

Project cost: £357,142

Lead: British Apples and Pears Ltd

This project will investigate the use of pyrolysis as an alternative and more sustainable approach to burning and grubbing. Pyrolysis will convert biomass to biochar in a clean, heat-generating process.

The resulting biochar will be investigated as a soil improver for increased orchard yields and productivity.

The potential of carbon credits as a new revenue stream opportunity for growers, and for carbon auditing within supply chains further improve the economic resilience of the apple growing sector.

This will support the transition of the commercial apple growing sector towards net zero.

ARWAC attack black-grass in farming

Project cost: £423,686

Lead: ARWAC Ltd

This project lays the foundation for next-generation robotic vehicles powered by renewable energy and tooled to control black-grass.

It drives productivity by increasing yield through weed eradication. It contributes to net zero agriculture by reducing input waste (nitrogen and pesticides) and removing fossil fuels from key farming operations.

This project will push the technology from laboratory stage to full testing in multiple farm environments.

SCARLETT: SCAlable, structured and Resource efficient indoor robotic harvesting of LETTuce

Project cost: £353,375

Lead: Jepco (Glebe) Ltd

SCARLETT is an ambitious project that transforms how produce is grown in the farm with structure and scalability. It simplifies the harvesting workflows into well-defined tasks where robots can be deployed to perform repetitive, laborious jobs with high efficiency.

SCARLETT will mitigate labour shortages faced by the industry, increase production to feed the population while being resource efficient and environment aware. It does this by redesigning harvesting processes and embedding robotics and AI.

Automated selective broccoli harvesting to increase grower productivity and resilience towards net zero

Project cost: £393,725

Lead: Earth Rover Ltd

This project will take a world-leading proof of concept broccoli harvesting machine to infield testing and a pre-production prototype.

The new automated approach will harvest the whole plant, opening up the potential to create valuable and nutritious plant-based foods from what was previously seen as crop waste.

Collaborative fruit retrieval using intelligent transportation (Co-FRUIT)

Project cost: £388,502

Lead: Performance Projects Ltd

The Co-FRUIT project proposes an innovative approach to harvesting-using collaborative human-robot teams. Harvesting tasks are allocated to maximise efficiency and respects the contributions of skilled human workers, demonstrating a cost-effective and efficient collaborative harvesting solution.

The project merges and advances three key technologies to demonstrate this solution:

  • an accurate and adaptive model task allocation
  • a responsive and safe methodology for autonomous navigation
  • a robust and affordable mobile platform.

Grain lab on a robot: autonomous, miniaturised and high-precision in-situ measurement of advanced grain parameters

Project cost: £366,074

Lead: Crover Ltd

The scope of this feasibility study is to develop a novel non-contact sensor for non-contact grain analysis. It aims for the sensor to be able to detect specific molecular compounds within a radius of up to a few tens of centimetres.

It is based on a novel miniaturised sensing technology, and the projects aims to integrate it onto the ever-improving CROVER robot. CROVER is the world’s first ‘underground drone’, which fluently ‘swims’ grain bulks and which is at the core of the CROVER autonomous grain storage management system.

StockBot: AI-driven poultry robotics to improve chicken welfare, litter quality, and associated emissions

Project cost: £349,866

Lead: Flox Ltd

This project will create a commercial agribot system (StockBot) to monitor and manage litter quality while taking actions such as the spraying neutralising agents to reduce ammonia emissions.

StockBot’s on-board sensors capture ammonia levels in areas identified as having poor litter quality creating virtuous feedback loops and enabling business-critical environmental data to be shared with supply chain stakeholders.

Bigger steps for smaller footprints towards climate positive beef

Project cost: £268,081

Lead: Dunbia UK

This project seeks to quantify the extent of greenhouse gas emissions from a representative sample of farmer suppliers in England and across the UK. It will then work with them to mitigate the effects of their production systems on the environment.

The project is a collaboration with FAI Farms Limited and Promar International.

From farm to fashion: transforming agricultural waste into a sustainable leather alternative

Project cost: £272,715

Lead: Biophilica Ltd

In this project, Biophilica will work with Minor Weir and Willis to:

  • assess their green and agricultural waste volumes
  • create plant-derived leather alternative samples from different feedstock
  • explore continuous production in pilots.

This will turn agricultural waste feedstocks into valuable commodities.

Top image:  Credit: Avalon_Studio, E+ via Getty Images

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