Astronaut Robotic milking machine milking dairy cows© Tim Scrivener

The government is inviting grant applications from farmers in England looking to improve productivity, or add value to meat, milk and fruit, by investing in new technology.

Defra secretary Michael Gove has announced that a pot of £40m will be made available to fund the rollout of the next stage of the Country Productivity Scheme.

The money means farmers in England are now able to apply for grant support to improve farm productivity through a diverse range of investments.

See also: Government support available to build on-farm reservoirs

However, the rules mean that applicants must be willing and able to invest sums of at least £50,000 themselves – which may rule out many smaller producers.

Eligible projects include the use of robotic equipment and systems to aid crop and livestock production or increasing the use of renewable energy produced on farm by improving energy storage and distribution.

Defra will also consider projects involving the use of LED wavelength-controlled lighting to aid crop production, along with technologies that make more efficient use of livestock slurries, manures and digestate.

A separate branch of the scheme, focused on adding value to agri-food, will also offer funds for farmers and food processors to invest in new equipment and machinery to improve the processing of milk, meat and fruit.

Minimum investment

Successful applicants for the competitive scheme will have up to 40% of the eligible costs of their project covered by the grant.

However, the minimum grant on offer is £35,000, which means the minimum total investment needs to be worth at least £87,500.

Defra suggests that farmers looking for grant support for smaller projects should investigate the opportunities provided by Leader funding.

All grant applications under the improving productivity part of the scheme must be submitted electronically by 3 December 2018.

Expressions of Interest for the adding value to agri-food programme must be in by 29 June 2018.

‘Wonderful opportunity’

Mr Gove said: “This new funding is a wonderful opportunity for our farmers and food processors to invest in the technology they need to boost productivity, competition and, of course, sustainability as a key factor in future-proofing our world-leading food and farming industry.”

The Countryside Productivity Scheme is part of the Rural Development Programme for England.

The first phase of the scheme, announced in July, included £6m for people looking to improve forestry productivity and £14m for water resource management.

Eligible projects

Under the improving productivity part of the scheme, the grants can be used to pay for:

  • Robotic equipment including driverless vehicles, and robotic versions of harvesting, weeding, milking and slurry handling equipment
  • A heat distribution network and associated equipment for the use of renewable heat generated on the farm, such as in glasshouses, pig or poultry buildings and for crop drying. Costs can include pipework, heat exchangers and pumps – but not the heat source
  • Electrical battery storage systems to enable better use of renewable electricity produced on farm
  • Installation of wavelength-specific LED lighting to aid crop growth and pest
  • Low-emission precision slurry and digestate management equipment including deep or shallow injection, trailing shoe or dribble bar systems. Also, slurry/digestate umbilical systems, tankers and storage bags.