15.01.24 Market Intel

Innovation in Agritech: From farm to plate

Population growth, changing diets and urbanisation are driving an ever-increasing intensification of agriculture and land-use change. In the UK alone 70 per cent of the land is farmed. Meeting the need for increased food production and nutrition, without degrading our environment, is one of the greatest challenges facing society today.

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Innovation in Agritech: Spearheading the UK’s farming approach, from farm to plate

Written by Chris Hewat-Boyne, Senior Funding Consultant at Granted

You’re hungry after a long day’s work… you leave the office and you have one thing on your mind. Some may consider a therapeutic meal at a favourite restaurant, others, a wine bar for a big glass of red and nibbles. Let’s face it, for most a big bar of chocolate will suffice. Whatever you fancy, the world is your oyster, or caviar, or abalone, or farmed shrimp. It really is. Think about all those choices within easy reach…

Modern-day agriculture delivers to our doorstep all the colourful and wonderful flavours our lovely green planet offers. Seasonal grub is a thing of the past. No more turnip winters. Strawberries are no longer bound to the summertime. You can have as much salad as a rabbit could eat, all year round. However, this abundance whispers a hidden cost… every morsel we consume produces tangible costs to our environment, whether it be biodiversity and natural capital loss, soil health deterioration and erosion, water quality impacts, or GHG emissions.

Our insatiable and unsustainable habits

Our insatiable habits create new agricultural challenges at a time when climate change is at the forefront of industrial debate. Challenges such as:

  • Biodiversity loss: Intensive agricultural practices have exacerbated centuries of decline, making UK agriculture the primary driver of habitat loss [UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 2023].
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: UK agriculture is a major contributor to nitrous oxide and methane emissions (69% and 48% of emissions, 2020, respectively). Despite a 16% decrease in emissions between 1990-2020, levels have plateaued since [UKGov.Agri-ClimateReport,2022]
  • Soil Erosion: Around 3 million tonnes of soil is lost from agriculture annually, most of which finds its way into rivers and waterways, destroying habitats and endangering wildlife [EA,2023], lowering water quality for sensitive insect groups and plant life [UniversityofOxford,2023].

Agritech innovation must address these challenges, whilst nourishing an ever-growing population. We need to produce 40% more food by 2050, increasing demands on land management, optimised yields, and greenhouse gas emissions, all changing the way we treat our land, grow our crops, and produce our food [YARA,2023]. Regenerative, nature-friendly farming needs to be implemented at a much wider scale, to both halt the decline in farmland wildlife and meet the challenges of the climate and nature crises [NationalBiodiversityNetwork,2023].

The future of food is data-driven

Cutting-edge data often inform the best strategies. The UK Government and the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are seeking to fund collaborative projects that develop environmental monitoring solutions to enable improved monitoring of environmental variables. A key focus of this is ‘Environmental Sensing’: creating the digital eyes and ears of the natural world, carefully developed and deployed across key environmental aspects to monitor ongoing effects of our interactions with the environment; benefits include:

  • Environmental protection: By monitoring pollution levels, climate change indicators, and natural resource usage, these sensors provide crucial data for environmental protection efforts.
  • Public health and safety: Early warnings about air and water quality issues, extreme weather events, and natural disasters can be issued thanks to sensor data, protecting public health and safety.
  • Improved efficiency and productivity: Agricultural sensors in buildings can optimise energy consumption, resource usage, and production processes, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings.
  • Enhanced agricultural practices: Monitoring soil moisture, temperature, and light levels helps farmers optimise water usage, pest control, and crop yields, leading to sustainable and productive agriculture.
  • Scientific research and understanding: Sensor data provides valuable insights into various environmental phenomena, contributing to scientific research and our understanding of the natural world.

Innovate UK – Environmental monitoring innovation fund

Innovate UK has already started to bridge links between academia and industry, creating the Eastern UK Regional Innovation Agritech Cluster, with a key focus on agri-tech and food-tech solutions.

In addition, Innovate UK and DEFRA have released the Environmental Monitoring Innovation Fund, offering a share of £5 million to collaborative projects that develop innovative solutions in environmental monitoring.

They are seeking projects that:

  • Fund novel sensing tech and monitoring advancements: Improve existing methods or pioneer new ones, emphasising sustainable data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  • Rigorously test new solutions: Validate accuracy and reliability through in-field assessments alongside existing regimes, boosting successful large-scale deployment.
  • Position the UK at the forefront of environmental sensing: Proactively address market demands in both public and private sectors, driving economic growth.
  • Spark cross-disciplinary collaborations: Foster new partnerships between public, academic, and private entities to accelerate innovation in environmental monitoring.

Proposals must develop new, or repurpose existing sensor systems and capabilities, such as observation systems, in-situ sensors or samplers, sensor or sampler carrying platforms; data processing, analysis, modelling or visualisation systems; post-acquisition sample or data processing or analysis and reporting.

Successful applications will:

This fund complements the existing Farming Innovation Programme, which also has two funds closing shortly:

Farming Innovation Programme: Research Starter Round 4 – EoI
Total project costs between £28,000 and £56,000
Competition closes: Wednesday 14 February 2024 12:00 pm

Farming Innovation Programme: Large R&D Partnerships Round 3
Total project costs between £3 million and £5 million
Competition closes: Wednesday 13 March 2024 11:00 am

From rumbling bellies to environmental challenges, Agritech innovation is stepping up to the plate with deeper insights and novel solutions. The future of food might be data-driven and sustainable, but for now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a plate of locally sourced, ethically-grown veg (or more likely a large chunk of chocolate).


Stay in the loop

Subscribe to our regular emails and be the first to receive the latest and greatest in grant funding opportunities, news, insights and resources.