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Agri-tech businesses, farmers, growers and researchers can now apply for a share of £12.5m for developing cutting-edge innovation in automation and robotics.

This competition will specifically target agriculture and horticultural production.

This is the third in our thematic series of funding competitions within the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) Farming Innovation Programme, building on climate smart farming and sustainable farm-based proteins.

In these competitions, Defra sets a theme for the projects to address those longer-term challenges of strategic importance for the farming sector.

Why automation and robotics?

With specific investment in this area, we aim to:

  • help improve productivity on farms
  • create more sustainable farming practices
  • improve animal welfare and food quality through data collection

In the longer term, the competition looks to help reduce labour demands and input costs.

The significance of automation and robotics was also highlighted in the National Food Strategy in terms of promoting growth in this sector.

What’s in and out of scope?

In this competition we will invite applications for:

  • collaborative industrial research (£500,000 to £1 million over 36 to 48 months)
  • experimental development projects (£750,000 to £1.5 million over 24 to 36 months)

Horticultural and arable crop production and all livestock are in scope of this funding competition, as are controlled environment and vertical farming systems.

As with previous competitions within the programme, we’re asking projects to demonstrate benefits to farmers and growers in England.

The project should address challenges where automation and robotic solutions will benefit food production systems through greater efficiency and resilience.

It’s important to note that the competition will not cover funding for ornamental or non-food crops, or wild caught fisheries.

Central pillars of a future food system

Katrina Hayter, Interim Executive Director Healthy Living and Agriculture, Innovate UK said:

Innovation through automation and the use of game-changing technology is one of the central pillars of a future food system in the UK.

The ability to plan, monitor, alert and review through digital systems brings substantial benefits to farmers and growers, from animal and crop health through to optimising harvest, waste reduction and environmental impact.

The competition will consider ideas for bringing forward this technology, and also look at how automation can support necessary farm labour, making roles more effective and productive for all involved.

With such opportunity, we look forward to studying the new concepts within the applications, and to supporting some of the best and brightest ideas in bringing their projects to the next stage.

Next steps

This competition

We will open the competition on 9 January 2023 and close it on 15 March 2023.

Find out more about this competition and how to apply:

Strand 1: Farming Futures: automation and robotics industrial research

Strand 2: Farming Futures: automation and robotics experimental development


There will also be an informative briefing and Innovate UK KTN consortia building event held on 18 January 2023.

Find out more about this event and how to register

Other funding opportunities

There will also be further funding opportunities in the coming weeks, as the Farming Innovation Programme is a rolling series of funding competitions.

In early 2023 we will be launching further rounds of the Research Starter and Large Research and Development Partnership competitions, and more details on these will be announced in due course.

Please visit the Farming Innovation Programme website for upcoming dates, and you can also stay informed by signing up to Defra e-alerts.

Related Organisations

Connected Content

The use of robotics is rapidly developing in agriculture, with large and small autonomous vehicles becoming commercially available.

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs.

The Farming Innovation Programme is part of Defra’s investment in innovation, research and development. Defra is partnering with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on the programme. 

The agri-tech sector is vibrant and growing, with many exciting companies, organisations and networks are working to develop agri-tech solutions.

Funding available for research and knowledge exchange in the UK comes from a mix of public, industry and charitable sources

Innovation in agriculture refers to the development and implementation of new ideas, technologies, and practices in the agricultural sector.

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