UK agri-food sector gets innovation funding boost

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

UK government backs agri-food innovation ©iStock
UK government backs agri-food innovation ©iStock
The UK government is launching a fund to help boost the productivity of the UK’s agri-food sector and support the adoption of innovative production technologies.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove revealed that the government is making £40m (€45.3m) in funding available via a grant scheme for investing in “cutting edge​” technology and new equipment. The grants, provided under the Countryside Productivity Scheme, are open to farmers and food processors.

According to the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the scheme aims to help livestock, dairy, arable and horticultural farmers improve farm productivity through investing in new technology, such as robotics, to cut costs or improve product quality. “The funding can be used on diverse investments, from robotic milking machines to green technology,”​ Defra explained.

The scheme also offers funds for farmers and food processors to invest in new equipment and machinery to improve the processing of milk, meat and fruit.

“We want to support [the UK agri-food sector] to grow more, sell more and export more great British produce – all while doing good for our environment​,” Gove commented.

“This new funding is a wonderful opportunity for our farmers and food processors to invest in the technology they need to boost productivity, competition and, of course, sustainability as a key factor in future proofing our world-leading food and farming industry.”

The Countryside Productivity Scheme is part of the Rural Development Programme for England.

Agri-food should be at ‘heart’ of industrial policy

A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union welcomed the news as a sign that the government is increasingly recognising the importance of the UK’s agri-food sector to the national economy.

“We are grateful for this £40m funding. It is a strong start. But more important than that is to have government support for the sector,”​ the spokesperson suggested.

The NFU was also “pleased”​ that the government appears to have shifted its focus towards productivity as well as “green agri-policies”​.

“It continues to be important that Defra provides incentives for farmers to work in an environmentally friendly manner. But at the same time, it is important for farmers to have a scheme designed specifically for Britain and our strengths. Sometimes this requires regulatory reform to unlock new technology.”

The spokesperson suggested that Brexit represents a "once in a generation"​ opportunity to evaluate policy and regulation to support agri-food growth. The NFU, alongside a “consortium of interested parties”​, is in the process of constructing proposals for an agri-food sector deal with the government in the wake of Brexit. This would address issues like climate policy, technology regulations (such as autonomous vehicles) and the use of big data.

According to the spokesperson, data is an area that the government can add real value to food producers by making it available and accessible. “Big data sets are part of what we want to highlight with the government…. Farmers are required to provide a lot of data – we would like to see that coming back in some form of an open data system that is easy for farmers to access.”

In order for this to make a real difference, however, the spokesperson suggested that the issue of broadband access in rural areas needs to be addressed.

The government has committed £30m in the form of a Rural Broadband Infrastructure grant. The NFU wants to progress faster: “There is a recognition there is a problem. They aren’t doing a lot yet.”

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