THE Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay, has used his first major speech to set out his commitment to backing British farmers and being on the side of rural businesses.
In his keynote speech at the Country Land and Business Association conference in London, the Environment Secretary set out his vision for an innovative and productive agriculture sector, supporting the sector to continue to develop into a more sustainable and profitable industry.
Almost £45m in competitions and grants are set to open in the coming weeks as part of the government’s £168m investment this year to support farmers to foster innovation, boost productivity and improve animal welfare.
This includes an initial £30 million on offer in the second round of the Improving Farming Productivity Grant, providing capital grants of £25,000 – £500,000 towards robotic and automatic equipment, with further funding potentially available depending on levels of interest. For the first time, it will also fund grants of between £15,000 and £100,000 towards solar equipment which can be fitted on rooftops and float on irrigation reservoirs, helping increase energy resilience and take-up of renewable energy generation on farms.
Almost £8m will also be available in the third round of the Large R&D Partnership, a competition specifically designed to boost industrial research and experimental development projects, and a further £850,000 through the Research Starter Round 4 competition to identify and accelerate new agricultural solutions, funding growers or foresters who have bold, ambitious, early-stage ideas.
By enabling some of the UK’s most promising innovation and research initiatives to get off the ground, this funding will not only see our farmers become more efficient and productive, but will also equip them with the knowledge and tools to maintain our high degree of food security.
Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said, “My pledge to you is that this government will always back British farmers who produce some of the highest quality food in the world, contribute billions to our economy, and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for taking care of our countryside.”
Farming Innovation Programme grants will also be extended in 2024 to include the Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies (ADOPT) fund, where businesses will be able to apply for a share of £44 million to test and trial new technology and techniques on farms.
Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, run in partnership with Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has committed over £125 million in funding to date and supported 150 projects involving 400 organisations.
This includes Bradley Farms in partnership with Harper Adam’s University who are combining advanced robotics and intelligent software to create ‘The Fieldsman’ – a robot that seeks to drive productivity by navigating autonomously through blueberry plantations to collect crucial data on crop production, growth, health and yields.
Meanwhile, through the Improving Farming Productivity Grant – part of the Farming Investment Fund – Woodcote Farming Ltd were able to purchase two Farmdroid robots to plant flowers and weed their fields, enabling their business to produce a higher yielding crop while reducing reliance on labour and pesticide usage.
Jim Bubb from Woodcote Farming Ltd said, “Being successful in the Farm Productivity Grant took our business to the next level. Purchasing our Farmdroid robot with the help of the grant has revolutionised the way we grow crops. Weeding by hand has been significantly reduced and we can look forward to a sustainable future, reducing requirements on labour, improving the environment and producing a better crop.”