Research projects scoop £8m from Farming Innovation Fund

Defra’s £8m Farming Innovation Programme will see a robotic courgette harvester and an automated weight tracker for beef cattle secure a slice of its funding. 

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) ran a competition last year to encourage technology and research concepts that can help UK farming improve sustainability, productivity and resilience – as the industry tries to meet climate change targets.

More than 20 projects were successful in their applications for UKRI’s transforming food production challenge.

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The range of ideas spanned arable and horticulture, livestock farming, pest and disease detection, and novel technology concepts.

Technology-led projects included Lettus Grow’s advanced aeroponic systems and Muddy Machines’ field-tested harvesting robots.

Data and tech company Yagro aims to use drone surveys to provide greater commercial data and intelligence to farmers.

Eyre Trailers, Earth Rover and Performance Projects all developed new concepts for harvesting – from combine harvester vehicles themselves, to broccoli and soft fruit.

Katrina Hayter, director for the Transforming Food Production challenge, said: “The breadth of areas covered by the successful projects clearly demonstrate just how many issues there are to tackle when it comes to innovating the UK’s food sector.

“Once again collaboration has been key, with new technology combining with research and in-the-field expertise to help drive these concepts forward.”

Competition winners

UKRI has awarded a total of £8m to the projects that were required to demonstrate the benefits the concept would generate, as well as how collaboration between farmers, businesses and researchers could be improved as a result.

The winning projects include:

Project High Speed Header (HSH): Next-generation combines, £394,693

Eyre Trailers 

Project HSH develops a novel tractor mounted combine harvesting implement.

This simple innovation significantly reduces harvester mass to enable a flexible tractor-mounted system.

It is an ambitious and transformational idea, with reduced financial cost and environmental impact.

HSH is delivered by Eyre Trailers, agricultural engineers and HSH inventors, in collaboration with the Lincoln Institute of Agri Food Technology.

Robotic Courgette Harvester, £251,647

Muddy Machines

This project is an important step on Muddy Machine’s (MM) journey to develop a completely novel class of agricultural machine that can reliably replace manual labour to address the needs of UK growers.

MM has already built and successfully field-tested an autonomous asparagus harvest robot whose platform can be used in this project.

HerdView: Automated weight tracking for beef cattle, £152,582


The HerdView project will assess the feasibility of adapting Agsenze technology to create an automated system that gives accurate daily weights to track cow growth.

It will also predict weight, grade, fat information for beef cattle to enable farmers to better manage feeding, while reducing effort and animal distress, as well as reducing costs.