The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced £12.5 million in funding for the development of robotic technologies for sustainable farming.

19 projects will receive a share of the Defra funding through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer announced the funding today (Thursday, September 28) with the aim of boosting productivity, food security and sustainable farming practices in the UK.

Some projects that will avail of the funding include:

  • A system to accurately predict and enhance quality of strawberry yields, reduce waste and optimise labour and harvesting schedules;
  • A system to digitally map and monitor vineyards using drones, robots and sensors;
  • A navigation system for field-based robotic vehicles to improve accuracy and reliability and enable safe navigation in farmyard and field operations. 

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said: “Farmers are always forward-looking, and innovation is key to driving a resilient, productive and sustainable agriculture sector that puts food on our tables. 

“The government stands firmly behind agri-tech innovation as the cornerstone of modern farming practices.

“By providing opportunities, funding and a supportive ecosystem within the sector, we aim to empower farmers, drive innovation and create a sustainable and prosperous future for agriculture across the UK.” 

Farming Innovation Programme

At the World Agri-Tech Summit in London, Spencer outlined the range of competitions under the Farming Innovation Programme that aim to support farming sector investment in new technology.

This includes £10 million currently on offer through the third round of the Small R&D Partnerships competition to help businesses develop a new farming product and service and take it to commercialisation on the open market.

It also includes £4.5 million in funding through the Feasibility Studies Competition to support businesses and researchers through the testing phase of an idea that will improve the productivity, sustainability and resilience of farming.

All the funding for these competitions comes through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition, which is part of Defra’s £270 million Farming Innovation Programme (FIP) and is delivered by Innovate UK.

The FIP has funded 17 competitions since opening in October of 2021.

Challenge director at Innovate UK, Dr Katrina Hayter, said: “Robotics and automation are crucial drivers in addressing the challenges posed by a growing global population and the need for sustainable practices in various sectors, including agriculture.

“By fostering innovation and research, we empower our farmers, growers, foresters and businesses to not only enhance productivity and economic growth but also to lead the way in sustainable practices.

“These projects are a testament to our commitment to improving environmental outcomes and reducing carbon emissions, ensuring a brighter and more sustainable future for our agricultural and horticultural communities.”