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  • Kate Pressland

Farming Innovation Programme R&D funding launches

The Agricultural Transition Plan R&D and innovation funding has got started this week, with some calls in the Industry-Led R&D Partnerships strand opening. With many funding streams about, getting the right one for your needs matters.

Defra and UKRI's bespoke website

To help launch the Farming Innovation Programme's Industry-Led R&S Partnerships strands, Defra in collaboration with UKRI (particularly Innovate UK for this branch of funding) this week launched their new website to help make finding the right fund easier for farmers, growers, foresters, agri-businesses and researchers.

Have a look here:

Read the small print

If you apply to the wrong competition you could be ineligible, you will not be sent for assessment, and unfortunately you cannot transfer applications. The clear statement of "personal responsibility to apply to the right call" is the phrase used in the funding criteria for each fund.

So, which call is right for you? This will depend on where you're coming from. Here we break down the Industry-Led R&D Partnerships a bit more to help.

Farmer, grower or forester?

Say you want to research something. Are you (a) needing to solve a particular practical problem on your farm?, or (b) do you have an ambitious idea for a solution or a big challenge that needs solving for your sector that currently isn't being researched?

a - you might consider waiting for Defra's Projects to Accelerate Adoption (PAA) funding next year (this is still in development). In PAA, you work with other farmers to research pragmatic issues, a bit like Innovative Farmers' field labs. These are small, agile projects for things such as testing new kit or working out if no-till works for you and your neighbours.

b - It could be that the Research Starter fund could be worth looking up. Here, there is dedicated funding to build the best team to work out whether the idea has legs. If successful, you could get funding for 6-12 months, £28-56k, where you work with an innovation broker to create the application, get the right consortia together and create a project plan to apply to bigger funding to develop your solution.

Note that Research Starter is for producers to lead on, with support created in the team that is built, not really for developers to come in and try and recruit farmers and growers. This is possible but they would have to really prove that the sector needs it and get a producer to lead. Farmer and growers leads don't need to do everything, but they are at the heart of the project throughout.

So you could have an idea for a new piece of machinery, or design or solution. Or you could say "there is a massive problem for my sector that doesn't seem to be well researched. It needs fixing and I want to help fix it if you can help me get the right team!"

'Heroic failure' allowed

In Innovate UK's launch event for the call this week, they described the possible outcomes of Research Starter, demonstrating that producers and the team will not be penalised for failure. They described their possible outcomes in this slide:

Innovate UK's explanation of possible outcomes of Research Starter projects, October 2021 (copyright Innovate UK)

Video entry

Submission for stage 1 is via simple videos. No extra marks for fancy production, just point the camera at yourself and describe the problem answering the questions in the application details. Make it clear, be compelling, keep it to time, and back up your ideas with any data or evidence (visual or otherwise) you have.

They are looking to green light around 20 ideas, which then go on to write formal applications. But this is where KTN will step in and help. Innovate UK are gold plating the support for this fund.

Agri-business or research institute?

The other strands are probably going to be more suitable for your R&D needs. Here, we have laid out the different strands in more detail:

Breakdown of the different funding strands in the Farming Innovation Programme

A new approach for Defra and UKRI

As the inforgraphic about shows, Research Starter is the first rung on the Industry-Led R&S Partnerships Fund. Take note here, industry (not academic) -led. Research Starter is a bit different though and a new concept as it is for farmers, growers and foresters, not necessarily a commercial agri-tech business, larger industry body or organisation.

Research Starter fund is a pilot - they are looking for some exciting applications to come in from producers, recognising that there could be some excellent ideas out there that need a helping hand to get a plan together. It would be great to see this fund get a decent chance given it's new approach and impressive support being made available. If it doesn't get any ideas in, it will go in the bin. We hope that will not be the case and that it gets given a little time to percolate in the minds of producers to unleash some promising ideas.

The successful Rural Innovation Support Service funded by Scottish Government blazed the trail here for pump-priming funding to build a project and team, with producers at the helm. This has clearly had influence over Innovate UK's and Defra's thinking in the development of this latest fund.

Creating a pipeline

Research Starter preps proposals to then go on to the other strands should project ideas bear fruit. The concept has been to develop a pipeline and a mechanism to help move on the ground priorities up the R&D chain in accelerated ways, as well as engage producers in new ways.

We know that innovation is not always linear, but by Defra and UKRI combining forces on the Farming Innovation Fund, there has been some critical analyses and connected thinking over what producers are inspired by and what could bolster their innovation potential over the long term. The potential for positive feedback loops into more impactful research is something the CEIA is interested in, and look forward to continuing working with the funders and policy makers to see this be a reality.


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