Following the completion of four substantial competitions under the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Farming Innovation Programme, 50 projects have secured valuable funding.
This will allow them to advance their innovations that aim to address some of the key issues facing the farmers and growers in England.
The competitions, which were again delivered by Innovate UK’s Transforming Food Production challenge, covered a range of important innovation areas, including climate-focused solutions, farming technology and smaller research and development (R&D) concepts still at their early stages.
In each case, the ability to demonstrate a project’s role in meeting net zero, productivity and sustainability ambitions across the food space was key to their success.
Climate Smart Funding
The Climate Smart Funding competition offered a share of up to £12.5 million to projects that were able to demonstrate solutions that help the agriculture sector to reduce emissions and reach net zero aims.
Projects were required to identify how they supported farmers, growers and foresters in the UK to improve practices and tackle common issues.
Winners included Aganalyst’s nitrogen efficiency project. Nitrogen based fertilisers are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
By using plants as sensors, this project will provide farmers with a Framework for improving Nitrogen efficiency (FINE), a management tool to support better fertiliser utilisation and reporting.
By using remote sensing, sensors and soil measurement, a more efficient approach can be taken to fertiliser timings and rates, supporting a more effective and profitable process.
Another winner was the beef genetics project run by Genus. This project provides targeted genetic solutions for farmers to create more value for the beef supply chain.
Beef calves that have a reduced carbon footprint are increasingly demanded by supply chain stakeholders in order to achieve UK carbon reduction targets.
The project includes ground-breaking research showing the potential of ruminal microbiome-driven breeding to mitigate methane emissions, with the aim of a 17% reduction and a feed conversion ratio increase of up to 15% per generation.
Sustainable farm-based protein
The sustainable farm-based protein competition also offered a share of up to £12.5 million to applicants, this time focusing on the development of innovative solutions to increase the sustainability protein production.
Covering areas such as livestock, plants, bioeconomy and novel animal feed production systems, the competition sought projects that would accelerate these technologies and support a sustainable protein industry.
MI:RNA’s Johne’s disease identification project
Among the winners from the industrial research element was MI:RNA’s Johne’s disease identification project.
This project will combine a unique biomarker testing technology with artificial intelligence (AI) to help detect early-stage Johne’s disease, which leads to a significant reduction in milk yields and weight loss, as well as increasing the greenhouse gas production from affected animals.
The project aims to further develop this technology to increase productivity, mitigate economic losses from the disease, and assist in achieving a sustainable, carbon-neutral dairy business model.
Crop Health and Protection
On the feasibility study side, one notable winner was the sustainable control method project run by Crop Health and Protection.
This project looks to provide sustainable and climate-resistant alternative products for legume farmers. It will identify new products to stimulate plant growth, increase tolerance to climatic stress, and help manage pests and diseases.
These solutions will include natural products and living microorganisms, which would help reduce the dependency on fossil fuel derived products and increase resilience in the crops themselves.
Feasibility round two
This feasibility competition formed part of the Programme’s Industry-Led R&D Partnerships Fund and offered a share of up to £5.5 million.
Projects were asked to offer early-stage solutions that have the potential to improve productivity, sustainability and resilience across farming, with a view to meeting net zero ambitions.
Synergy Farm Health
One of the successful applicants was Synergy Farm Health’s bovine tuberculosis (bTB) antibody testing.
The project will carry out a longitudinal study with an antibody test to detect bovine tuberculosis in bulk milk.
The aim is to improve the control of bTB in dairy herds through better welfare surveillance, reducing overall costs for farms and the taxpayer. A successful outcome would also improve productivity in farms, and better inform the steps needed to control the spread of bTB among herds.
Another key project was FungiAlert’s biopesticide for wheat crops. This project aims to identify fungal strains that can help fight against both insect and fungal pests in wheat crops and builds on the previous development of a dual-action biofungicide and bioinsecticide solution for UK cereal farmers.
This dual-action product will have significant benefits for farmers, including reducing the costs associated with multiple applications of chemical pesticides, reducing mechanical damage from repeated spray applications, and reducing crop yield losses.
Research starter round two
The research starter round two competition provided a fund of up to £1 million, where farmers, growers and foresters can secure a share by identifying early-stage solutions to key food production issues.
The competition is aimed at making innovation funding more accessible to a wider range of applicants.
One winning project focuses on winter wheat, run by Passmore Brothers. This project looks at precision planting of wheat seeds, aiming to improve light capture and yield, while reducing disease and plant competition pressures.
Combining the expertise from both farm and research partners, the project will consider the potential for seed-planting robot development if initial tests prove successful.
Another successful innovative solution was Gwynhallow’s automated dairy cubicle cleaner. This project will investigate a novel technical solution to automate the cleaning of dairy cow cubicles.
Led by the practical experience of a working dairy farmer, the project connects them with a local engineering company and an agri-tech centre to progress the initial idea into a working prototype.
The majority of UK dairy cows are comfortably housed in cubicles and keeping them clean and hygienic takes significant time and money.
This project tackles these issues, as well as helping to improve the welfare of the animals simultaneously.
Innovation in the UK agri-food space
Katrina Hayter of Innovate UK, Executive Director Healthy Living and Agriculture and Challenge Director, Transforming Food Production and Farming Innovation Programme said:
The competitions once again demonstrate the sheer breadth and quality of innovation within the UK agri-food space.
We’re proud to be able to help deliver these funding and partnership opportunities to the sector, bringing together farmers, growers, technologists and researchers in a common aim of making the UK food system more sustainable and resilient.
Whether improving existing production or introducing novel foods and techniques, the winners have all risen to the innovation challenge and we look forward to supporting their development further.
For more information on the Farming Innovation Programme and future funding opportunities visit the Farming Innovation website.
Farming Futures R&D Fund one: climate smart farming
- Aganalyst Limited (£2,805,642) From nitrogen use efficiency to farm profitability
- Genus Plc (£2,088,660) Climate smart beef genetics: innovative approaches to the reduce environmental impact of the UK beef supply chain
Farming Futures R&D Fund two: sustainable farm-based protein
- MI:RNA Ltd (£395,850) Diagnosis and prediction of early-stage Johne’s disease (MAP) in cattle to enable improved sustainability of agricultural protein production
- Vertical Future Limited (£737,478) VIP Leaf (vertical indoor protein from leaf)
- Crop Health and Protection Limited (£362,960) Sustainable inputs for UK legumes
- Seaweed Generation Ltd (£293,660) Automated high density macroalgal protein biomass cultivation system
- Openfolde Limited £755,704) PeaProtein
- University of Nottingham (£406,625) Sustainable farm-based protein for organic dairy cows
- Upcycled Plant Power (UPP) Ltd (£793,453) SusProt: sustainable plant protein from vegetable crop sidestreams
- University of Leeds (£797,880) SNAPP: sustainable nutrition for animal protein productivity
- Crop Health and Protection Limited (£393,059) Improving the sustainability of lupins through conventional and next generation methodologies
- Mana Biosystems Limited (£762,194) 360 farm: first end-to-end modular insect farm for a sustainable protein source on commercial farms
- Aquanzo Ltd (£290,164) Farmed marine proteins for poultry feed
- Synergy Farm Health Limited (£161,882) ImmunIGy: a novel pen-side test for checking calf immune status, to increase the efficiency of beef production through supply chain feedback and improved management
- 17Cicada Ltd (£413,804) Sustainable, localised farm-based microalgal fermentation to transform protein supplements for animal feedstock
- National Institute of Agricultural Botany (£406,933) Cicero: developing chickpea as a novel source of domestic UK protein
- Mr Bug Ltd (£257,886) Mealworm protein for animal feed: automating and optimising production
Feasibility round two
- Synergy Farm Health Limited (£385,348) Can bulk milk revolutionise TB testing?
- FungiAlert Limited (£224,194) Novel dual-action biopesticide for wheat
- Mutus Tech Ltd (£381,880) Adaptive AI-enabled and context-enhanced mobile intelligence for climate-smart pest management to optimise sustainable and resilient farming
- Baker Consultants Limited (£257,758) Soil eco-acoustics for land management
- Plantsea Ltd (£389,415) Feasibility of a unique seaweed-based mulch film, from lab to field
- BACB Renewables Limited (£207,729) DELIVER: decarbonising emissions from livestock: innovative valorisation of waste for energy resilience
- Hudson & Sanders Limited (£280,405) A bright future: the use of far UV as a disinfectant in the livestock industry
- Agrisound Limited ( £152,807) BioNet: novel approach to enable comprehensive environmental monitoring for English fruit growers
- Riverford Organic Farmers Limited (£225,554) Design and evaluation of peat-free blocking media
- Concert Bio Ltd (£349,863) Harnessing the power of the microbiome to increase productivity, sustainability, and resilience in controlled-environment agriculture
- Vertinetik Limited (£343,710) Feasibility study for development of an accessible UAV-based tree health management platform: ash dieback
- Agri Samplers Limited (£377,343) ‘PathoScout’: portable DNA analysis for precision agriculture
- Biochar Innovations Limited (£317,745) Biochar innovation feasibility study
- Russell IPM Ltd (£387,321) Innovative push-pull control of spotted wing Drosophila, an invasive pest of fruit crops
- Crystal Heart Salad Company Limited (£424,947) Protected cultivation of horticultural crops: setting a new standard
- Flex Farming Limited (£345,424) Carbon free nutrient
- Elaniti Ltd (£193,302) Assessing the effectiveness of affordable soil spectroscopic techniques for microbial diversity and abundance predictions on English wheat farms
Research starter round two
- Passmore Brothers (£30,298) Exploring spatial patterns of planting winter wheat
- Gwynhallow Ltd (£47,848) Automated cubicle cleaner
- Moulton Bulb Company Limited (£35,929) Extracting value from onion waste: evaluation of pyrolysis to improve the sustainability of onion production and reduce costs on the journey to net zero
- GR and RH Peacock (£38,280) What’s in my store
- Elston Farm Partnership (£48,254) Silvopasture Biodiversity: beetles and bats: methods for farmers to measure the impacts of silvopasture systems on functional biodiversity
- Norbury Park (£39,102) Novel squirrel trap to reduce management costs by 80%
- D A Platt (£48,852) Feasibility study looking into the opportunities available through controlled environment agriculture integrated with anaerobic digestion outputs
- Crystal Heart Salad Company Limited (£46,758) Exploring a new type of greenhouse
- Wicklesham Estates (£47,536) Slug resistant wheat
- Driver Farms (£45,326) Harvest weed seed control
- Phipps Farm Partnership (£14,376) Precision breeding using artificial insemination versus the bull
- Hemsworth Farms LLP (£48,169) 24/7 biodiversity monitoring
- TC and D Willoughby (£44,631) Carbon materials for compost bedded yards
- Cassels Farm Limited (£39,065) Food-grade fibres from oat processing by-products
- Bashfarms Limited (£48,320) Energy crop transformation
- E and J Farming (£45,955) Drones and AI on-farm
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