Defra has announced that they will be allocating £9.13 million to three innovative projects for research & development on strategies to increase agricultural production, sustainability, and climate resilience.
The money will go towards creating environmentally friendly methods of growing potatoes, a robotic crop harvesting system for horticulture, and an automated system to replace cow bedding to promote health, welfare, and production.
A second round of the government's £270 million Farming Innovation Programme's Large R&D Partnership competition (which is funding the three aforementioned projects) is presently accepting submissions.
The government has pledged to spend £600 million over three years on grants to help farmers increase productivity, animal health and welfare, innovation, and R&D. The yearly farming budget of £2.4 billion, which has been frozen for the duration of this Parliament, will be used to pay for it.
According to Defra, the funding will aid in the delivery of long-term sustainable food production and will support farmers in their efforts to prevent and reverse the degradation of nature as outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan.
To expedite the implementation of robotic crop systems for horticulture, the government of the United Kingdom has allocated over £3.8 million to the Agri-Opencore project, a robotics harvesting initiative led by UK tomato producer APS Produce.
With this investment, the team may design and build the first open development platform (including both software and hardware) for agri-robotic crop harvesting. Multiple organisations will be able to contribute to the open development platform, facilitating cross-sector collaboration and technology demonstration on English farms. The project's goal is to hasten the introduction of robotic picking by two years.
APS Produce's Phil Pearson had this to say about the Agri-Opencore robotics project: "This is an interesting and necessary project for the fresh produce business. It has the potential to bring about the substantial development needed to automate the gathering of fresh food in the UK.
Significant progress towards autonomous harvesting can be anticipated as a result of the collaboration between premier technology companies Dogtooth, Xihelm, and Wootzano and the intellectual brilliance of the University of Lincoln team.
Wootzano, located in County Durham, claims that the cost of using their Avarai technology to package fruits and vegetables is comparable to using human labour.
Wootzano Ltd. CEO Dr. Atif Syed has stated, "The Wootzano team, together with growers, academia, and the agri-robotics industry, is working on Agri-OpenCore, a project aiming at an open development platform for robotic systems." The uniform access to fundamental robotic software and hardware components made possible by the platform will speed up the process of widespread adoption in both industry and academia. Our commercial Avarai system will serve as the foundation for the end-user packaging container that the Wootzano team will develop for vine tomatoes.
The Potato-LITE project has been given $2.83 million to investigate efficient methods of growing potatoes. In order to produce a suitable environment for potato growth, the soil must be cultivated to create a deep and homogenous seedbed free of stones and clods. Though regenerative agriculture has been made possible by decreased tillage techniques in cereal systems, similar methods have yet to be established for the cultivation of tubers and other root vegetables.
Leading food companies PepsiCo and McCain, machinery manufacturer Grimme, growers Strawson Ltd, JRO Griffiths, H Sutton & Son, and JM Bubb, and research organisations will work together to develop new cultivation equipment and systems that will revolutionise potato tillage. (Cranfield University, Harper Adams University and CHAP). The project's aim is to make the potato industry, which is worth an estimated £824 million, more robust and sustainable by decreasing the depth, intensity, and number of operations needed to maintain soil health and produce potatoes.
According to Shaunagh Slack, Regen Ag Scientist, Agricultural Science, PepsiCo and Project Lead for Potato-LITE, "Agriculture is at the heart of our business, and PepsiCo is committed to supporting agricultural practises that are environmentally responsible and profitable."
Potato-LITE presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to forge a pioneering industry-academia relationship to revolutionise potato tillage and measure its positive effects on soil health and GHG emissions. As we move towards a net-zero future, this four-year research project will pave the way for the widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture practises within UK farming communities.
Ecologically Sound Agriculture
Mark Spencer, the minister responsible for agriculture, said, "It's crucial that we fund initiatives like these — and those still to come in future rounds — as we enable farmers to achieve sustainable food production and protect the environment. Investing in innovation and R&D will ensure the industry remains technologically competitive in the years to come.
"These projects have all demonstrated not only an innovative solution to a real, on-farm problem, but also the value of partnerships and collaboration between different sector experts," said Katrina Hayter, interim executive director healthy living & agriculture, Innovate UK. Successful implementation of cutting-edge technology in farmers' daily lives requires their input.
We're excited that these collaborations are grounded on this concept and plan to continue supporting them as they refine their solutions and realise their potential.