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UKRI awards more than £8m to innovative new farming concepts

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced the winners of a combined £8 million in funding as part of Defra's Farming Innovation Programme. The feasibility projects competition was created to back new and innovative solutions, aid research and collaboration, and encourage collaboration across the UK's farmers, growers, and foresters.

The competition, managed by UKRI's transforming food production challenge and delivered by Innovate UK, ran from October to December 2021. It sought applications of up to £500,000 to support the investigation of early-stage solutions that have the potential to improve sustainability, productivity, and resilience of the UK farming on a path to net-zero.

Projects were required to demonstrate the benefits the concept would generate, as well as how collaboration between farmers, businesses, and researchers could be enhanced as a result.

Successful projects
Over 20 projects were successful in their applications, for a range of ideas across:

  • agriculture
  • animal farming
  • pest and disease detection
  • novel technology concepts.

Successful technology-led projects included Lettus Grow's advanced aeroponic systems and Muddy Machines' field-tested harvesting robots, while Yagro aims to utilize drone surveys to provide greater commercial data and intelligence to farmers.

Improving sustainability in farming
Katrina Hayter, challenge director for the transforming food production challenge, said, "The breadth of areas covered by the successful projects clearly demonstrate just how many issues there are to tackle when it comes to innovating the UK's food sector. What these projects have shown is not simply a standalone solution but a concept that forms part of a wider picture of improving the overall sustainability and productivity in farming. Once again, collaboration has been key, with new technology combining with research and in-the-field expertise to help drive these concepts forward."

As a further part of the Farming Innovation Programme, UKRI has also announced the opening of the research starter round two competition. 

Bringing concepts to life
Katrina Hayter added: "Who understands the issues facing farmers better than the farmers themselves? We are always keen to support and make use of the on-the-ground knowledge that farmers, growers, and foresters possess, and this competition enables some of these bold new ideas to be tested and researched at an early stage to see their potential for the wider sector. We look forward to helping farmers take the first steps to bring their concept to life." 

Additional information on competition winners

Robotic Courgette Harvester, £251,647
(Muddy Machines Ltd)
This project is an important step on Muddy Machine's (MM) journey to develop a completely novel class of agricultural machines that can reliably replace manual labor to address the needs of UK growers.

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

Advanced Aeroponics: supercharging horticultural productivity, £347,550
(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 and sets out to demonstrate productivity increase, the flexibility of growing, and the improved resource efficiency of Advanced Aeroponics (energy, labor, water, nutrients, etc.).

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

Growing Media for the Future: production of Sphagnum for high-quality, sustainable, and peat-free substrate, £379,082
(Micropropagation Services (EM.) Ltd)
This project will develop a method for producing Sphagnum moss at scale for commercial processing into sustainable growing media, with 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.

SCARLETT: scalable, structured, and resource-efficient indoor robotic harvesting of lettuce, £353,375
(Jepco (Glebe) Ltd)
SCARLETT is an ambitious project that transforms how 'produce is grown in the farm' with 'structure, scalability.' It simplifies the harvesting 'workflows' into well-defined tasks where robots can be deployed to perform 'repetitive, labor intense' jobs with high efficiency.

SCARLETT will mitigate the labor shortage faced by the industry and increase production to feed the population while being resource efficient and environmentally aware by redesigning harvesting processes and embedding robotics or artificial intelligence (AI).

Automated selective broccoli harvesting to increase grower productivity and resilience towards net zero, £393,725
(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.

For more information:
UK Research and Innovation


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