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Defra: Farming Innovation Programme funds (multiple competitions)

Funding Finder
Defra

Agri-TechE regularly update this post to summarise the Defra Farming Innovation Programme funding calls. These calls are generally open to all businesses, and encourage collaboration with farmers. The Farming Investment Fund is aimed towards growers and farmers; we list those seperately here. Full information on all Defra funding is available on the UKRI website. Agri-TechE can help find partners and collaborators for projects; please get in touch with us for more info.

In 2024, Defra will introduce a new scheme under this Programme, Fund 3 – Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies (ADOPT). See more at the bottom of this post.

In May 2024, Steve Barclay, Defra’s Secretary of State, says that the UK’s innovation ecosystem can expect increased support for agri-innovation by up to £50 million, with a focus on automation of packhouses in horticulture. The aim is to have fully automated systems within 12-18 months. 


Research Starter

If you, or a group of farmers, have an idea you think could improve farming and solve a long-term practical challenge, you can apply for funding for a ‘Research Starter Project’. The funding is for farmers, growers and foresters to explore ways to bring benefits across the whole farming community. You’ll be able to investigate a problem you know exists to work out what could best be done about it.

£28-56k for a project length of up to 18 months (previously 12 months).

Find out more information on the call page.


R&D Partnership Projects

If you have a new farming product or service you want to develop, you can apply to be funded as a ‘Research and Development (R&D) Partnership’ project.

It’s your chance to pitch something that could improve farming methods and help the environment.

You need to be a business registered in the UK to lead a project. Research organisations and other businesses, including farmers, growers and foresters, can collaborate as part of the project team.

  • Large R&D Partnership Projects 

You’ll need to collaborate with at least one other business or research organisation (Agri-TechE can help members identify partners). Projects can last up to 4 years and need to cost between £3 million and £5 million, and will be industrial research or experimental development projects addressing major on-farm or immediate post farmgate challenges or opportunities. Full info about this call is available here.

  • Small R&D Partnership Projects

Next round tba in late in 2024

You’ll need to collaborate with at least one other business or research organisation (Agri-TechE can help members identify partners). Projects can last up to 4 years and need to cost between £1 million and £3 million.

  • Feasibility Studies

Next round tba in late in 2024

If you’ve been researching an idea that could improve farming, you can apply for funding to check if it will work in practice. The ‘Feasibility Studies’ competition is for projects that cost between £200,000 and £500,000.

Projects can last for up to 2 years and should help you decide if it’s worth investing more in the development of a product or service.

You need to be a business registered in the UK to lead on a ‘Feasibility Studies’ project. Research organisations, farmers and growers, and other businesses can be part of the project team as collaborators.

Full info can be found here.


Farming Futures R&D Fund

Next round tba; topics will be themes around Nutrient Management (spring and autumn 2024) and a second theme around climate smart farming. Expect Net Zero Farming theme to open in autumn 2024.

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £12.5 million across the two strands of this competition: Feasibility and Industrial Research. This competition is for UK businesses and research organisations who want to work on longer-term projects that will benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England through the development of innovative solutions.

Nutrient Management

Competition opens 29th May 2024, and will close 24th July 2024.

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £15 million across the two strands of this competition, to develop innovative solutions for nutrient management.

This competition is split into 2 strands:

Strand 1: Farming Futures: Nutrient Management Phase 1 – Feasibility

Strand 2: Farming Futures: Nutrient Management Phase 1 – Industrial Research

Farming Innovation Programme Fund: Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies (ADOPT) 

Summary:

These grants are focused on providing groups of farmers, growers and foresters in England with support to conduct on-farm experiments and trials. This will allow farmers to drive practical research that is relevant to them as well as providing “pull-through” of new technologies and processes to the practical domain. The funding and support available through ADOPT funding will help de-risk farmers’ participation in research and innovation. 

How much you can apply for:

There will be a total of £45 million grant funding available up until 2028/29.

Dates to note:

Coming in summer 2024.

Creating an opportunity out of challenge – Defra chief scientific adviser to give a keynote at REAP

Meet the Network
Agri-TechE

Increasingly frequent ‘extreme’ events create a challenge but also an opportunity for agriculture if science can keep pace and answer the questions arising from farmers. The Agri-TechE REAP 2023 conference, ‘Adaptation through innovation; beyond the comfort zone’ provides a forum for accelerating innovation in agri-tech.

Professor Gideon Henderson, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser, and David Exwood, livestock farmer and NFU Vice President, are the keynote speakers and they will create a context for discussions in this highly interactive event, which also features emerging agri-tech and a start-up showcase.

Prof. Henderson will be framing the direction of travel for agricultural science and discussing the challenge of balancing net zero and biodiversity with food production.

Science and farming is a two-way conversation

Professor Gideon Henderson became Defra Chief Scientific Adviser in October 2019. In this capacity, he is responsible for ensuring that Defra’s policymaking and delivery is informed by the best possible science and innovation, across the full range of the Department’s environmental and agricultural responsibilities.

Henderson says: “I see it as a two-way conversation: science is offering new options and opportunities for farming, and farmers are asking new questions of science. The activities of organisations like Agri-TechE are very important in supporting this dialogue.

Henderson is also Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. Before his appointment to Defra, his research looked at the viability of routes to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and he led the Royal Society Report on Greenhouse Gas Removal (GGR), published in 2018.

Recommendations from the report included creating demonstration projects of land based GGR approaches, and developing techniques for monitoring and measurement that would enable verification and validation of the emerging approaches for GGR.

Gideon Henderson
Gideon Henderson

Need for science-based verification of environmental outcomes

Prof Henderson comments that such science-based verification of environmental outcomes are equally important across many areas of government agriculture and environmental policy.

“For example, in terms of soil carbon, we don’t currently have a broad enough range of measurement tools to assess soil carbon content, but we’re improving with some clever innovations in that space. There is hope that we can soon take higher-resolution and more accurate measurements.

“One pressure in our carbon budgets is peat degradation. So much of our Grade 1 agricultural land is peatland, and although we are still at the earlier part of the learning curve than we are with woodlands, we are moving along that curve with farmers.

“The simple statement ‘we want to maintain food production’ is quite a tricky concept. I look forward to hearing discussion about achieving such production in the face of environmental pressures at REAP.”

Agri-TechE’s REAP 2023 conference ‘Adaptation through innovation; beyond the comfort zone’ is to be held on 8th November 2023 at the Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket, UK. Find out more at reapconference.co.uk.


REAP 2023 logo

REAP Conference 2023:
Adaptation Through Innovation; Beyond the Comfort Zone

Wednesday 8th November, 9:30 am – 6:30 pm
Rowley Mile Conference Centre, Newmarket

Surviving and thriving under increasingly extreme and unpredictable challenges is the theme of the 2023 REAP conference. To build a productive, profitable and sustainable agri-food industry, we must move away from the comfort zone and become open to the new opportunities that exist when we ‘stretch’.  Be a part of that future – bring yourself and your ideas to REAP.

reapconference.co.uk

Seeking scientific solutions – who decides?

Agri-TechE Blog
Agri-TechE

“Putting farmers in the driving seat of research” was the underpinning sentiment of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme. This initiative is aimed at ensuring the flagship programme is farmer-facing and that it tackles key issues facing the industry.

How easy – or even desirable – is it to achieve farmer led research? We look at who decides what scientific research is carried out, and by whom.

How is research prioritised?

Hosting a recent senior delegation from Netherlands’ agri-tech innovation ecosystem has inspired the Agri-TechE team to reflect on the way scientific research is structured and prioritised in the UK – and what it means for farmers seeking urgent answers to new and unprecedented questions.

Haldane and excellence

Key to the UK’s global research approach has been the so-called “Haldane” principle – the central premise of using peer-review committees to assess project proposals and recommend funding (or not) according to their scientific excellence and potential impact.

This means that only the highest quality research projects are funded, and Government Ministers and civil servants don’t direct or demand which are supported.

This poses the wider question as to how to maintain the balance between “fundamental, blue-skies” research and more applied, strategically-focussed work directed to the needs of the industry.

Too much fundamental science means limited industrial impact – too little and eventually the pipeline dries up as no new or creative ideas and knowledge are being uncovered.

Dig in for the long-term

Research in agriculture and horticulture can be a slow business. Crop seasonality, the long gestation periods of some animals, and the time taken to demonstrate a step change in soil health, for example, all dictate research timelines.

And for new practices such as paludiculture, farmers are asking questions of “the science” which may not have a historical body of published research to draw on. Yet evidence-based decisions are needed today which could impact the next few decades.

UK governments have also traditionally struggled with long-term funding commitments that could be inherited by subsequent administrations. For projects that may take ten years or more to yield meaningful information, this can be a real challenge.  

A complex research landscape

Of course, there’s a lot of research that isn’t publicly funded – charities, levy boards, industry-supported trials – a wide spectrum of the duration, scale and complexity of scientific investigation is underway.

Each funder has their own priorities but there is no collective long-term “grand research plan” for agriculture and horticulture to which everyone is aligned.

On the plus side, such an approach enables freedom of thinking, exploration of both short and longer-term questions, and creative insights. The downside is that it is incredibly difficult to curate and coherently communicate all the outputs, with a risk of fragmentation and duplication of effort.

Keeping pace across the ecosystem

Additionally, other factors are moving at different speeds relative to the pace of the scientific endeavour, which also impact farmer awareness and the rate of adoption of new tools and practices.

These include the development of standards and regulations (slow) and the emergence of new markets such as voluntary carbon markets (very fast). Other drivers such as investor appetite and media interest (variable speeds) are also rarely aligned with the pace of the science.

Going Dutch

Our friends in the Netherlands have a different approach. They have long-term, agreed priority areas spanning the spectrum – or “Technology Readiness Levels” to enable the valuable novel insights arising from “curiosity-driven” research as well as much-needed new industry-focussed knowledge. Farmers, governments, researchers and tech developers from industry and public institutions are all part of a bigger joined-up plan.

A middle ground

For nearly a decade Agri-TechE has been helping connect farmers and industry professionals with the research community and funders. We have learned that engagement of scientists with farmers is key – but an appreciation of how science is directed and prioritised is crucial to help manage expectations.

New Tools for a New Future

New tools of artificial intelligence are well-placed to help us navigate what is known already, what research looked promising but needed further investigation, and where the gaps exist, needing more resource and effort. All while maintaining the balance of short, medium, and long-term priorities.  

Such an analysis could also help prepare regulators, and investors – as well as farmers – for their new, science-powered future.

The new Science and Technology Framework states the mission is for the UK to become the most innovative economy in the world.

Let’s get a plan together.

Who’s up for it?