Apply for competitions to fund innovation in farming

Composite of farmer in field accessing data on digital tablet

Photograph: MBI/Alamy

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 about latest competitions and when the key deadlines are.

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

Farming Futures Research and Development: Nutrient Management rounds 1 and 2

The Farming Futures Research and Development competitions are focused on large scale research projects which could benefit farmers across England. They are individual competitions, each with a specific focus. These two rounds will benefit from up to £25 million in funding. The first phase launched in May and the second phase is expected in the autumn. 

Phases 1 and 2 of this competition will focus on nutrient management, while a separate competition will focus on net zero farming (more information can be found further down this page).

These research competitions will accept ideas which may be in earlier development stages, not typically suitable to other research and development opportunities.

The split is between feasibility studies and industry research. Feasibility studies focus on projects of up to £500,000 and are open to a number of applicants, while the industry research strand will cover projects between £500,000 and £1 million, however the applicant list is limited purely to businesses. 

Deadline: These competitions are open until 24 July at 11am. 

Details on the feasibility studies competition: GOV.UK | Farming Futures: Nutrient Management Phase 1 – Feasibility.

Details on the industrial research competition: GOV.UK | Farming Futures: Nutrient Management Phase 1 – Industrial Research.

Further information on this competition can be found at – UKRI.ORG | Farming Innovation Programme

Farming Innovation Programme Fund: Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies

Opening in summer 2024, these grants are focused on providing groups of farmers, growers and foresters in England the necessary support to conduct on-farm experiments and trials. These will drive practical research allowing for the industry to develop its own solution and provide a ‘pull-through’ opportunity of new technology being adopted and implemented in a practical context.

The funding and support made available through ADOPT (Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies) will help enable farmers to engage and participate in research and innovation by reducing the risk associated with engaging with new technologies and ideas.

There is a total of £43 million available through ADOPT which will be available until 2028/29.

Feasibility Studies: Round 4

Opening in autumn 2024, the feasibility studies will fund projects between £200,000 and £500,000 where an idea is tested to see if it works in practise.

Projects can last for up to two years and can help determine whether the idea has the scope to be implemented with additional funding.

Businesses registered in the UK are required to act as leaders for any ‘feasibility studies’ project. However, research organisations, farmers, growers and other businesses can also be involved as collaborators on the project.

There is £4.8million available to fund these studies.

The full application guidance for round 4 will be published later this year, with the application window opening in the autumn. As this is a competitive process, applications will need to show how the project would contribute to the following:

  • Solve a real world problem for farmers, growers or foresters.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Reduce emissions and the environmental impact of farming.
  • Improve the resilience of farming businesses in England.

The competition also aims to encourage collaboration between farmers, researchers and wider businesses, in the hope that collaboration can stimulate the development of solutions and improvements needed to face both the environmental and industry challenges.

Small R&D Partnerships: Round 4

Opening in autumn 2024, the Research and Development competitions are intended to support the development of a new farming product or service. This could be an opportunity to pitch something which could improve farming methods and help the environment.

As with previous rounds, the lead must be a UK registered business, however they can collaborate with other businesses, research organisations and farmers, growers and foresters. There is £7.8 million allocated to this round of funding.

The small partnership competition will offer funding between £1-3 million and projects for this competition can be up to three years in length.

As with other competitions the focus is for projects which will:

  • Solve a real world problem for farmers, growers or foresters.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Reduce emissions and the environmental impact of farming.
  • Improve the resilience of farming businesses in England.

More information can be found at: UKRI. ORG | Develop – Farming Innovation Programme.

Farming Futures Research and Development: net zero farming

Opening in autumn 2024, the net zero farming competition is the second of the Farming Futures Research and Development opportunities in 2024.

It aims to support large scale research projects which could benefit farmers in England. Ideas which are further away from market readiness can be considered for funding in this competition.

The theme for this competition is net zero. Previous rounds have focused on ‘climate smart farming’ and ‘sustainable farm-based proteins’.

More details on this competition are due to be published in the coming months, including more information on this specific competition theme. The budget for this competition is anticipated to be £12.5 million.

Further information on this competition can be found at – UKRI.ORG | Farming Innovation Programme

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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.

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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.

In early 2024, two competitions closed. The first of these was round four of the research starter competition. Funding was available for between £28,000 to £56,000 to develop an idea to address a known industry problem. This competition has £850,000 of allocated funding available.

There was also the third round of the Research and Development Competition – this competition launched in January and closed in March 2024. This was a larger opportunity, with funding available for up to four years to fund projects.

Funding was between £3 million to £5 million. It aimed to develop new products or services which would be of use to farmers in England.

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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].

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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 09 July 2024.

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