£15m for agricultural research and development unveiled

Scientific research into increasing agricultural output is to get a £15m boost in the next stage of the government’s £90m investment plan.

Following last year’s £13.5m fund for developing new approaches to crop protection, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform is looking for research institutions and companies to pitch for a share of the £15m available.

Projects are expected to run for three to five years and will explore increasing sustainably-produced vegetable protein for animal feed and more efficient livestock production.

David Alvis of the Technology Strategy Board, one of the organisations behind the SAFIP, said the programme aimed to develop basic scientific research and turn it into something of lasting commercial value. “We can fund up to 50% of a project. Projects should be collaborative and seek to increase production of animal and crop protein and reduce the environmental impact of the sector.”

While last year’s competitive funding programme had been crop-specific, the new £15m fund sought to address some of the larger challenges facing farming, Mr Alvis said.

“We have a rising world population and increasing demand for animal protein. Europe as a whole is less than 30% self-sufficient in vegetable protein, and 90% of imported vegetable protein is from soya. So we’re looking for new technology that addresses that – the development of new varieties and new crops, and novel sources of protein.

“We’re not ruling out GM biotechnology. Regulations change over time and as these projects will last up to five years, the current regulatory environment may be very different in time.”

Last year’s crop protection competition had benefited some 30 projects, he said. “It’s a competitive tender process for consortia which are business-led – they need to have one commercial partner. It’s intended that successful projects use this funding to develop commercial solutions.”

Mr Alvis said he expected to receive interest from research institutions in partnership with businesses and even groups of farmers. “A number of producer groups were involved in the previous competition, as well as agrochemical companies and plant breeders.”

The £15m pot was part of the £90m programme of public sector funds to develop new technologies and innovation to support growth in agricultural productivity in a sustainable way, Mr Alvis said. A panel of experts from industry and academia would assess projects competing for funds.

Other partners in the competition included the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, DEFRA and the Scottish Government. A series of workshops for interested parties are taking place throughout February. Visit www.innovateuk.org/competitions


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