Details of the next stage of Farming Investment Fund (FIF) grants have been released, offering up to £500,000 for equipment to improve productivity.
The Farming Transformation Fund Improving Farm Productivity grants will pay 40% towards eligible costs, with a minimum grant of £35,000, requiring a minimum total spend of £87,500.
The priorities for funding include raising the efficiency and effectiveness of primary agricultural or horticultural production in England, reducing environmental impact and contributing to achieving net zero and greenhouse gas reduction.
This will encompass improving nutrient and resource management that supports optimisation of field and livestock operations and the adoption of automation in areas where access to labour is an issue.
Two main types of kit will be eligible in this round – robotic or autonomous equipment and systems to aid crop and livestock production, along with the installation of slurry acidification equipment for improved nutrient management and to reduce ammonia emissions.
The first stage in the process of securing one of these larger grants is an eligibility checker, which is expected to open in mid-January for at least eight weeks.
Projects scoring highly enough against Defra’s targets will be invited to submit a full application, the deadline for which will be in mid-September.
Detailed applications needed
Sam Kelly, of Gloucestershire-based Kelly Farm Consulting, expects to be handling a lot of applications for robot milking kit under the scheme and said: “Should a project be invited to complete a full application, detailed business and financial information will be required.
“A lot of interest is expected for this theme, so clear and well-thought-out projects will be essential.
“Based on the requirements for similar schemes in the past, three- to five-year cash and profit forecast will be needed, also details of employment levels,” said Mr Kelly. “Applicants will need to demonstrate improvements in productivity and profitability.”
Robotic equipment that will be funded through this theme of the grant includes:
- harvesting, weeding and spraying equipment
- autonomous driverless tractors or platforms
- voluntary robotic milking system
- robotic feeding systems
- robotic transplanting
- advanced ventilation control units
- wavelength specific LED lighting for horticultural crops.
Additional robotic items will be considered, as long as these have a sensing system, the ability to understand its environment, decision-making capability to plan, and control actuators.
Staffordshire-based Auto Spray Systems supplies lightweight, all-electric, autonomous robots for use on farms to spray, broadcast, carry and tow.
Chief executive officer Robert Pearson said these and other robots like them will be supported in the forthcoming funding rounds.
Slurry acidification projects will include systems that lower the pH value of slurry using acid treatment to stabilise the ammonia, so increasing the availability of nutrients for plants, and reducing ammonia emissions.
For a system to be eligible, four elements need to be present: acid storage, dosing equipment, a mixing tank and a pump.
The costs of installation and commissioning this equipment is also fundable through the scheme.
It is also possible to stack the slurry acidification project with shallow injectors, trailing shoes, dribble bars or the real-time analysis of slurry.
Smaller grant deadline reminder
Applications close on 7 January for smaller grants through the first round of the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund, offering up to £25,000.