The government has announced a £24 million funding package for pioneering agri-tech projects that are working towards more efficient systems of food production, boosting productivity and contributing towards the NFU’s ambition for net zero agriculture by 2040.
The funding will be shared across nine innovative projects that are applying big data, artificial intelligence, novel growing systems and robotics to UK horticulture and farming, with the aim of improving labour efficiency, cutting costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The package forms part of UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Industrial Strategy Challenge FundTransforming Food Production (TFP) challenge, which aims to set food production systems on the trajectory to net zero emissions, producing food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable.
Key among the projects is Robot Highways, led by Saga Robotics in Lincoln, which 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, labour intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases.
NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper co-chairs the Advisory Board for the Centre for Doctoral Training at Lincoln University. Commenting on the announcement, she said:
“At this difficult time for our industry, it’s great news to see such investment going into projects that will help British farmers and growers become more efficient and productive in the long run.”
“For me, it’s especially exciting to see £2.5m going into developing automation. The NFU has been highlighting a need for development in this area within the Industrial Strategy, and the Robot Highways project will be big step forward in demonstrating robotic picking and packing.
“More importantly, it will help address the complex issues around labour-intensive horticultural production, which have become so prevalent over the past few months.”