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UKRI invests £24 million in cutting-edge technology to transform UK agriculture

17/07/2020

UKRI invests £24 million in cutting-edge technology to transform UK agriculture
  • The funding will help the UK meet its net zero climate change goals by reducing carbon emissions from food production
  • A diverse array of projects is being funded, including data-driven precision agricultural solutions, innovative animal feeds, and robotics
  • Over £2 million to a project based in Nottingham to help recycle carbon dioxide from Drax power station into sustainable animal feed.

UKRI is investing in nine major new innovative agri-tech projects to bring the latest technology to UK agriculture. These cutting-edge projects will help UK farmers and growers to reduce carbon emissions, improve productivity and profitability, and showcase UK food production as leading the way in science and sustainability. The exciting new projects include next generation autonomous growing systems, new vertical farming techniques, robotics assisting our farmers in fruit picking and a project that converts CO2 from one of Britain’s biggest power stations into food for chickens or fish.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

"To protect our environment and meet our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we must harness the very best of UK innovation across all sectors, supporting the most creative and pioneering ideas.

"From robotics assisting our farmers in fruit picking, to technology that converts CO2-to clean animal feed, the incredible and cutting-edge projects we are backing today represent the future of farming. Working with the best of British science, we are accelerating the transition to net zero food production, boosting jobs and productivity and driving forward the UK’s economic recovery."


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Funding for the nine projects comes through two competitions - the Future Food Production Systems competition and the Science and Technology into Practice Demonstration competition. Together these competitions have generated new collaborations spanning research, manufacturing, technology and farming to boost the productivity and economic growth of the sector.

The funding forms part of UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Transforming Food Production (TFP) challenge which aims to set food production systems on the trajectory to net zero emissions by 2040 and producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable.

Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: 

"It’s great to see investment in these outstanding ideas which will help us tackle the farming industry's greatest challenges, from achieving net zero emissions to investing in sustainable alternative protein for animal feed. Farming has never before been at the centre of such exciting and forward looking innovations."

Projects receiving funding include:

  • REACT-FIRST (Nottingham), led by Deep Branch Biotechnology, will receive over £2 million to use carbon dioxide from Drax Power's Selby power station and apply its unique CO2-to-protein process to generate food for fish and poultry with up to 75% smaller carbon footprints, no requirements for arable land and minimal water usage.
  • Autonomous Growing System (London), led by Optimal Labs, will receive over £2 million to provide autonomous technology that controls climate, irrigation and lighting, enabling any crop variety to be grown in any location. This will significantly increase production levels and resource-efficiency in existing UK greenhouses, helping to protect the UK's food system against climate change and population growth.
  • Robot Highways (Lincoln) led by Saga Robotics, will receive nearly £2.5 million to perform the largest known global demonstration of robotics and autonomous technologies on a farm. The robots will assist farmers by carrying out essential, energy intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases.
  • Production at the Point of Consumption (Maidstone) led by Evogro, will receive nearly £850,000 to research and develop the next generation of autonomous growing systems, to ensure they are affordable for new consumer markets, and to make it an economic method to produce mainstream crops.
  • InFarm2.x (London) led by vertical farming business InFarm will receive over £3 million to develop a farming system that can grow a wider variety of fruit and  vegetables than is currently possible by growing their crops in vertically stacked levels, rather than on a single level surface, such as a field. It will also use technology including gas sensors and monitoring cameras to observe the growth patterns of their crops, helping to identify the optimal growing conditions, increasing productivity.
  • AGRI-SATT (London) led by Feed Algae, will receive over £4 million for its project which is based around an algae growing system that exploits natural seawater to produce food in deserts. This project aims to combine data from the growing system with satellite data to automate production and increase the nutritional quality of the food produced.
  • GelPonic (Manchester), led by AEH Innovative Hydrogel, has developed a new growth material that will improve crop yields on farms worldwide. It will receive over £1 million to develop a material that conserves water and protects plants by filtering pathogens and includes a new graphene-based IoT device that allows remote-monitoring of conditions in vertical farms.
  • REMEDY (Bath), led by Quality Milk Management Services, will receive over £1.7 million to provide precision technologies to dairy farmers enabling them to access real time data to ensure their farm is as productive, efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. This includes technology such as wearable devices for cows that tracks their behaviour and nutrition, ensuring farmers can make more informed decisions when managing their farm.
  • TUBERSCAN-DEMO (Lincoln), led by B-hive, will receive nearly £2 million to develop and test an innovative demonstrator system to measure average potato sizes and yield throughout potato fields, providing insights that will enable selective harvesting to take place, optimising crop yield and resource use. It is anticipated that this technology could generate an estimated 5 - 10% increase in UK marketable potato production.

Melanie Welham, Executive Director, BBSRC, part of UKRI, said:

"The projects we have announced funding for today, show that the food production sector is a beacon of innovation. These brilliant ideas have the potential to make food production more resilient, efficient and less resource intensive.

UKRI's funding programme for this sector is ongoing. In this funding round, we’ve awarded funding to nine innovative companies. In the future, we encourage businesses to come forward with fresh ideas to help UK agriculture."

All of this investment in new resource efficient, low-emission production systems is part of the government's commitment to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.

Press release on Gov.UK

Notes to Editors

UKRI’s £90 million Transforming Food Production programme as part the Industrial Strategy Challenge  Fund 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.


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