UK agricultural science and technology projects get £4m from government and industry

UK Dairy Farms

Pioneering projects in the UK agricultural sector will be given funding totalling GBP4m to develop new business ideas, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) announced on Friday.

The 11 agricultural projects, which cover crops, livestock and aquaculture, will receive GBP2.8m from the government, along with a co-investment of GBP1.4 million from industry. The government funding comes from the GBP70m Agri-Tech Catalyst, run by the Technology Strategy Board and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. It is part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies, which is designed to help researchers and industry build on the strengths of the UK agricultural technologies sector. The Agri-Tech Catalyst is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Department for International Development.

According to the BIS, some of the projects investigate new farming techniques, including seaweed cultivation that is currently experiencing increased consumer demand.

An aquaculture industry consortium is being led by the National Lobster Hatchery to develop novel cultivation techniques in order to expand the industry to include the European lobster, while the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences is leading a consortium to develop aquaculture technology to produce two species of seaweed.

Crop projects include a consortium to develop a set of tools to make it easier, cheaper and faster to incorporate useful properties from related wild plants into mainstream varieties, which is being led by the James Hutton Institute; Saturn Bioponics and the University of Manchester are working on prototype nutrient composition sensing technology for hydroponic farming; the University of York and Syngenta are investigating a new paradigm in pesticide discovery and optimisation; ADAS UK, Sainsbury’s and the University of Manchester are collaborating on the development of a tractor-mounted sensor that will reduce the cost and carbon footprint of wheat production; the Royal Holloway University and Germains are working together to improve a technique used to improve the quality of vegetable seeds, called seed priming; a consortium is being led by GrowUp Urban Farms to build the UK’s first aquaponic urban farm, which is expected to quantify the economic and environmental potential of sustainable urban farming; and Exosect is carrying out research with EsEye on how to control insect and mite pests in grain storage by harnessing natural fungi.

Other projects are focusing on solving livestock problems that affect farmers, such as a cattle disease that currently costs the dairy industry more than GBP200m annually.The projects include research into the improvement of treatment and management of mastitis in dairy cattle by University of Nottingham and Quality Milk Management, while Cambivac Limited and Moredun Scientific are working on the development of technology to produce vaccines that more effectively control disease (PRRS) in swine.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, commented:

“The pioneering projects announced today are the businesses of the future and this funding will make a real difference in bringing innovative ideas from the lab to the marketplace. This work is critical in supporting the UK’s Agri-tech Strategy and our commitment to establish the UK as a world leader in agriculture technology, innovation and sustainability.

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