Sensors, robotics, analytics, and a range of other Industry 4.0 technologies are set to help UK farmers reduce pollution, minimise waste, and produce more food – thanks to £22.4 million of government investment in 31 new projects.

These are the first to be revealed under the £90 million Transforming Food Production Challenge fund, one of several funds set up under the government’s revamped Industrial Strategy and overseen by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

The funded programmes are intended to contribute to the provision of greener, cleaner processes for the agricultural sector, helping the UK honour its commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, said the government.

The projects include:

The Hands Free Farm in Beningborough, York, which receives over £1.5 million for its quest to operate a farm completely autonomously, developing robotic skills, smart machines, and new evaluation technologies.

Tuberscan, a project in Lincolnshire, will use a £391,000 grant to develop ground-penetrating radar, underground scans, and AI to monitor potato crops and identify when they are ready to harvest. The system could increase the usable crop by up to ten percent and reduce food waste at minimal extra cost, said the announcement.

A Hertfordshire project from Hoofprints Technologies and Precision Grazing will use a £233,000 grant to help cows graze without farmer supervision, via sensors on farm gates and GPS trackers.

aiScope, a project based in Sheffield, will use a £1 million grant to apply AI and analytics to tackle the common cereal weed, Blackgrass, saving farmers up to £580 million a year.

RapiPath, a Yorkshire-based programme, receives £530,000 to develop diagnostic hardware and software to test for diseases in dairy cattle.

Other recipients include: three separate vertical farm research projects in London, Bristol, and Sheffield, which will receive nearly £2 million in funding to develop technologies to optimise the growing of crops in urban locations; a number of crop-picking robot projects, focusing on the soft fruit sector; and a Kent-based crop monitoring system, which seeks to use sensors and big data analytics to understand yield loss.

The recipient of the largest funding from the government is the Beef Data Bank in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The project receives £2.4 million to develop what it claims is the world’s first big data platform for the beef supply chain. However, it will be up against a similar Gloucester-based programme, which receives £1.2 million from the Challenge fund.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said that the 31 projects will “ensure we lead the way in supporting our vital farming industry, delivering high-quality food for consumers, while reducing the wider environmental impact.

“This is a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy, investing in ground-breaking projects, creating highly skilled jobs and providing a cleaner, greener future for generations to come.”

Farming Minister Robert Goodwill added, “Agri-tech can help us address the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry, such as eradicating crop pests and diseases for arable farmers without harming the wider environment.

“In 2018 we saw the total value of agri-tech investment worldwide skyrocket to $17 billion – an increase of 40 percent on the previous year. Today’s funding will enable more investment in new technology, helping lead to scientific breakthroughs that could transform the sustainability of global food supply chains.”

Be part of a discussion and connect with like-minded leaders in your sector at our forthcoming trade event – The Sensor Show – next year.