Apply for competitions to fund innovation in farming

Strawberries growing on a tree

Defra has partnered with UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) to launch a series of competitions for funding to back research into innovative farming solutions. Read on to find out about the latest competitions to apply for, and how past applicants and winners can share their experiences with us. 

Latest competitions

Defra has announced that more than £14 million will be made available for two new research and feasibility competitions under the Farming Innovation Programme. 

The competitions are open to farmers, growers, foresters, research organisations and businesses involved in agriculture to collaborate on novel ideas and solutions. Read on to find out what the latest competitions are and the key deadlines for these. 

“It is absolutely vital that as an industry we are supported to bring new ideas and technologies forward to the market.”

NFU President Minette Batters

As we approach 2024, it is worth exploring the various options for funding that will be launching in the months ahead:

Research Starter: Round 4

Further funding for a Research Starter Project will open for applications from 18 December 2023, closing on 14 February 2024.

This will be the fourth round of this type of grant, which allows for individual businesses to trial an idea they have which responds to a known industry problem. The funding here is between £28,000-56,000 and is awarded on a competitive basis, meaning the strongest proposals will be funded after a two-stage process, starting with an expression of interest from the farmer or grower.

There will be a pool of £850,000 available for this round, with a key aim being to develop and accelerate new agricultural solutions.

More information can be found at: UKRI.ORG | Explore an idea that could benefit your farm and others.

Research and Development partnerships: Round 3

The third round of the R&D partnerships fund will be launching in January 2024.

This fund has a small and large pathway available. The large partnership route opens for applications on 15 January 2024 and closes in March 2024; it will provide between £3-5 million in funding over up to 4 years. This funding can be used to develop a new product or farming service that would improve farming methods or help the environment for the benefit of farmers in England.

The pool for this round is £7.8 million. It is worth noting that this competition is aimed at industrial grade research and experimental development projects.

More information can be found at: UKRI.ORG | Develop a new farming product or service.

About the Farming Innovation Programme

Back in October 2021 Defra launched the first of a series of funding competitions to invest in R&D for the farming industry under the Farming Innovation Programme banner. Further competitions have become available throughout this year.

The aim of the programme is to help farmers, growers and foresters increase their sustainability and resilience through harnessing science to develop practical solutions for the industry.

The NFU has argued for increased funding in this area for many years and it is vital that investment leads to all farmers and growers being supported to get involved at some level with R&D.

It is essential robust evidence is accessible to everyone to improve decision-making and provide feedback on what works on farm.

In September 2023, the government announced that 19 innovative projects developing automation and robotic technologies will receive a share of £12.5 million in government funding to boost productivity, food security and sustainable farming practices.

The funding comes through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition, which is delivered by Innovate UK.

In February 2024, Defra announced that 24 innovative projects will received a share of over £12.2 million under the ‘On farm Environmental Resilience’ competition. The winners are using technology to tackle a range of long-term challenges to plants, crops and farmed animals including preventing potato blight, improving the wellbeing of farmed chickens, growing climate resistant hops and maximising grape yields in British vineyards.

The NFU has also joined a consortium of over 20 industry and research partners to form CHCx3 (The Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping), a four-year, £5.9 million project led by crop science organisation NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany).

Find out more at: NFU joins research partners to help UK farmers increase carbon capture.

NFU President welcomes funding

Responding to the announcement of funding for research and feasibility competitions, NFU President Minette Batters said: “The NFU welcomes this further funding opportunity to help support the development of solutions to todays’ challenges.

“It is absolutely vital that as an industry we are supported to bring new ideas and technologies forward to the market so that our members can meet those challenges.”

Past competitions

In October 2021, the first three competitions under industry-led R&D Partnerships Fund were launched with total funding of £17.5m.

A further funding opportunity for large R&D partnership projects opened in March 2022, with £8m of funding on offer for large collaborative business-led projects. Round 3 of the small R&D partnerships fund opened during August 2023 and offered a share of up to £9.8 million.

You can read more about the successful applications from the first round of the Small R&D partnership projects funding at: UKRI | £11m funding announced to further support food sector innovation.

Other funding opportunities under the large R&D, research starter and robotics and automation competitions were available in 2023, with a total value of over £20million of funding.

UK registered micro, SMEs (Small or Medium-sized Enterprises) were able to apply for a share of up to £5 million to develop innovative farming solutions under the Farming Innovation Investor Partnership. The aim of this competition was to support late-stage experimental development projects being close to market and ultimately adoption by farmers.

UKRI have also announced a further fifty successful projects across four FIP competitions, which you can read about at: UKRI | 50 winning projects showcase the latest farming innovations.

A third round of funding under the feasibility studies fund also closed for applications on 15 November 2023. There was a £4.5 million funding pool available, which was from the Industry-led R&D Partnerships Fund.

We want to hear from you

We would like to hear from any of our members who looked at these opportunities about their experiences, good or bad. Whether you applied, or even just considered applying, this feedback will help with future NFU discussions with Defra and UKRI. We hope this can lead to improvements in the programme and application process. 

If you have feedback please email us on [email protected].

Further information

If you are interested in the Farming Innovation Programme please visit: UKRI | Farming Innovation: find out about funding .

You can also read Defra’s blogs at: GOV.UK | Future Farming

Read more around the net

This page was first published on 06 December 2023. It was updated on 14 February 2024.

Ask us a question about this page

Once you have submitted your query someone from NFU CallFirst will contact you. If needed, your query will then be passed to the appropriate NFU policy team.

You have 0 characters remaining.

By completing the form with your details on this page, you are agreeing to have this information sent to the NFU for the purposes of contacting you regarding your enquiry. Please take time to read the NFU’s Privacy Policy if you require further information.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.