UKRI and Defra to launch Farming Innovation Pathways competition

Farmers putting out hay in the field for the sheep to feed on

UKRI and Defra have today announced their R&D collaboration for an exciting new funding opportunity, Farming Innovation Pathways.

The competition will be delivered through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Transforming Food Production, aimed at developing new and existing farm-focused innovations.

Farming Innovation Pathways will ensure practical translation of leading research in agriculture. This can directly benefit farmers and support them to address the challenges of productivity, sustainability, and net zero emissions in UK farming.

This is the first competition of its kind following the UK’s departure from the EU. It will pave the way for research and development (R&D) to turbocharge future innovation in the agricultural sector.

Transforming Food Production programme

Farming Innovation Pathways will act as a bridge between the final stages of the Transforming Food Production programme and the launch of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) R&D Innovation package in 2022.

It will build on the ground-breaking innovations already funded by the Transforming Food Production programme. This has seen advancement in areas as diverse as insect farming, sustainable livestock feed, agricultural robotics and autonomous growing systems.

Similarly, Farming Innovation Pathways will be open to ideas addressing challenges across the agri-food sector. Priorities will include robotics and automation, which could include things like vision-guided robotic weeding systems, and novel food production systems, including vertical farming.

Developing novel technological solutions

Funded through Defra’s Future Farming & Countryside Programme, this £12 million opportunity will bring together farmers, growers and businesses, enabling them to develop novel technological solutions.

Through its dual-pronged approach, the competition will support a range of exciting projects. Ranging from the initial spark of an idea through to developing transformational technologies that could revitalise farming practice and be taken up across the sector.

Crucially, Farming Innovation Pathways aims to support the adoption of innovative technologies and practices, so it will be vital for applicants to develop solutions with the engagement of farmers and growers.

The funding split

The funding is split between:

  • feasibility projects (£5m): to evaluate the potential of early-stage ideas or innovations that tackle on-farm challenges, that could lead to further R&D to develop ideas into technically and commercially feasible solutions
  • industrial research (£7m): to develop novel high-potential solutions targeting real issues affecting farmers, growers and other agribusinesses, or further develop existing solutions. This will deliver transformative solutions that tackle problems farmers are currently facing. It will include working with stakeholders to assess how solutions will be integrated within production systems to achieve widespread adoption.

Developing a sustainable agricultural sector

Katrina Hayter, challenge director for UKRI’s Transforming Food Production challenge, said:

Working alongside Defra for this competition will ensure a coordinated approach to support innovation to help drive future green growth and develop a world-leading sustainable agricultural sector.

There are many new individual solutions for the farming sector, but strong engagement with farmers in the innovation process ensures that these solutions can be quickly deployed within an agricultural production system.

It is also really important that we can demonstrate the benefits of these solutions to farmers and growers, as well as the wider industry. There are many economic and environmental challenges facing the agriculture sector in the UK and further afield.

In this context, it is vital that we work with innovators and farmers to ensure good ideas and new technologies have clear routes to adoption, effective business benefits for users and the ability to improve longer-term productivity and sustainability of the sector.

Addressing the industry’s greatest challenges

Victoria Prentis, Defra Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, said:

The Farming Innovation Pathways competition offers farmers and growers the opportunity to see their bold and innovative ideas become reality, and to drive forward green growth in the sector.

We want to see farmers manage their businesses in a way that delivers profitable food production and the recovery of nature, using the best modern technology available today.

Promising innovations such as robotics and automation, and novel food production systems have the potential to transform business performance for our farmers and help them address some of the industry’s greatest challenges.

Further information

For further information please contact:
PJ Taylor (Senior Media and Communications Manager)

About the Transforming Food Production challenge

UKRI’s £90m Transforming Food Production programme is part of the ISCF and aims to help the agricultural sector grow economically with less environmental impact.

The programme will set food production systems towards net zero emissions by 2040 by producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable.

It will accelerate the development and adoption of integrated precision approaches to improve productivity in agricultural systems. The investment will be made over four years.

The programme will focus on the development, demonstration and adoption of data-driven systems and technologies to achieve a better approach to agricultural production and reduce emissions.

The remit includes both crop and farmed animal production, as well, as new production systems. The long-term success of the challenge is dependent on a diverse range of farm businesses adopting new technologies and approaches.

Top image:  Credit: SolStock/Getty Images

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