DEFRA selects 31 agri-tech projects for £90m funding

DEFRA has selected £22m worth agri-tech projects for the Transforming Food Production Challenge.Image: DEFRA has selected £22m worth agri-tech projects for the Transforming Food Production Challenge. Photo: courtesy of Crown copyright.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said that the government has selected the first 31 agri-tech projects for its £90m Transforming Food Production Challenge.

The programme is an Industrial Strategy fund aimed at helping businesses, researchers and industry in transforming food production in the country.

According to DEFRA, the funding will help businesses in playing a role in developing greener, cleaner process for the agriculture sector. The selected projects, which are worth £22m, are expected to play a role in helping the government reach its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

UK Farming Minister Robert Goodwill said: “Agri-tech can help us address the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry, such as eradicating crop pests and diseases for arable farmers without harming the wider environment.

“In 2018 we saw the total value of agri-tech investment worldwide skyrocket to $17 billion – an increase of 40% on the previous year.

“Today’s funding will enable more investment in new technology, helping lead to scientific breakthroughs that could transform the sustainability of global food supply chains.”

One of the selected projects announced by DEFRA is aiScope, which plans to apply artificial intelligence (AI) and analysis to handle the common cereal weed, Blackgrass. Expected to potentially save £580m a year for farmers, the aiScope project will be helped by the government with a £1m grant.

Another project that will use AI is Tuberscan, which will be helped with a grant of £391,000. Tuberscan aims to monitor potato crops and identify when they are ready to harvest by using ground penetrating radar, underground scans and AI.

The usable crop is expected to be increased by an estimated 5-10% using the technology, bringing down food waste with minimal extra cost, said DEFRA.

Also selected for the Transforming Food Production Challenge funding is the Rootwave project, which aims to use electricity instead of chemicals to destroy weeds through the roots, thereby avoiding damage to crops. This project has been given a grant of £690,000.

UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The projects announced today will ensure we lead the way in supporting our vital farming industry, delivering high quality food for consumers while reducing the wider environmental impact.

“This is a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy, investing in ground-breaking projects, creating highly skilled jobs and providing a cleaner, greener future for generations to come.”