Farming Innovation Programme: Research Starter round 4 – EoI

Key Features

Farming, growing or forestry businesses based in England can apply for a share of up to £850,000 for feasibility projects to improve productivity, sustainability resilience and move the agricultural sector to net zero.

Programme:     Defra

Award:     Share of up to £850,000

Opens: 18th Dec 2023

Closes: 14th Feb 2024

! This scheme is now closed


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will invest up to £850,000 in innovation projects.

This funding is part of Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme which is a partnership with UKRI’s Transforming Food Production Challenge and delivered by Innovate UK.


The aim of this competition is to:

  • investigate early-stage solutions with the potential to substantially improve overall productivity, sustainability, resilience and move existing agricultural sectors to net zero
  • prioritise solutions that have positive outputs for farmers, growers or foresters in commercially relevant situations
  • accelerate development of effective new agricultural solutions by working with end-users and collaborating with the wider UK research community in the innovation process

This competition provides an entry point​ for farmers, growers or foresters that have bold, ambitious, early-stage ideas to solve major problems that impact their business. This can help you exploit new significant opportunities for both your business and the industry sub-sector.​

The outputs of this expression of interest (EoI) competition will provide you with the knowledge and information needed to aid you in applying for grant funding for the development of your idea.

Your proposed feasibility study must investigate new solutions to industry identified challenges, or opportunities for farmers, growers or foresters that have the potential to significantly improve:

  • productivity
  • sustainability and environmental impact
  • progression towards net zero emissions
  • resilience

Your project must focus on developing on-farm or immediate post farmgate​ solutions.

You must be able to demonstrate how the project will benefit farmers, growers or forestry in England.

Defra want to fund a variety of projects across different technologies, markets, technological maturities and agricultural sectors. This is called a portfolio approach.

The portfolio approach is used to optimise the spend profile of the competition and make sure that funds are allocated across the strategic areas identified in the scope.

Specific Themes

Your project must address a significant industry challenge or opportunity in at least one of the four industry subsectors:

  • livestock
  • plants
  • novel food production systems
  • bioeconomy and agroforestry


If you are invited to the full stage competition, any awards given to primary agricultural producers are subject to the green box exemption under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Please see further guidance on green box subsidies here WTO Guidance for support in Agriculture.

Applicants receiving this type of support must ensure that there is minimal to no distortion of trade and comply with the requirements of Annex 2 of the Agriculture Agreement.

If your application is successful at this expression of interest (EoI) stage, you will be invited to apply for a full stage competition. In the full stage competition you must collaborate with other eligible partners.

Your full stage project must:

  • have total costs between £28,000 and £56,000
  • start by 1 October 2024
  • end by 31 March 2026
  • last between 6 and 18 months
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in England

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian or Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian or Belarusian source.

Lead organisation

To lead a full stage project your organisation must:

  • be an active farming, growing or forestry business of any size based in England
  • be able to evidence that you are an established commercial business, including sole traders and partnerships
  • have a UK bank account
  • not have been awarded Innovate UK funding as a project lead within the last 5 years before 14 February 2024

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

The aim of this funding is to enable a commercial farming, growing or forestry businesses to investigate their own idea. It is not intended to fund the development or testing of an existing product or idea by an external company on a farm or forestry application.

The lead applicant must be a farmer, grower or forester running a commercial agricultural or forestry business. Examples of organisations that would not be eligible as the lead applicant include research and technical organisations, manufacturers and suppliers of products, equipment or services, trade and membership organisations, not for profit organisations.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead in the full stage competition, an organisation must be a farmer, grower or forester based in the UK or be a UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)


Subcontractors will be allowed in the full stage of this competition.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

Number of applications

A farming, growing or forestry business can only lead on one EoI application.

Use of animals in research and innovation

Innovate UK expects and supports the provision and safeguarding of welfare standards for animals used in research and innovation, according to best practice and up to date guidance.

Applicants must ensure that all of the proposed work within projects, both that in the UK and internationally, will comply with the UKRI guidance on the use of animals in research and innovation.

Any projects selected for funding which involve animals will be asked to provide additional information on welfare and ethical considerations and compliance with any relevant legislation as part of the project start-up process. This information will be reviewed before an award is made.

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

You can make a maximum of 2 submissions to Innovate UK with any given proposal. If Innovate UK judges that your proposal is not materially different from your previous proposal, it will be counted towards this maximum.

If your application goes through to assessment and is unsuccessful, you can reapply with the same proposal once more.


Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • are equine specific​
  • involve wild caught fisheries
  • are cellular or acellular production systems, fermentation systems for bacteria, yeast or fungi​
  • are for the production of crops or plants for medicinal or pharmaceutical use
  • are aquaculture, including algae and seaweed for human consumption
  • do not benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England

Innovate UK cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product

Funding Costs

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has allocated up to £850,000, working in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Transforming Food Production Challenge, to fund innovation projects in this competition. This competition is delivered by Innovate UK.

Funding for the full stage competition will be in the form of a grant.

A minimum of 50% of the total grant amount requested by farmers, growers and foresters in the full stage application, must come from farmers or growers geographically based in England.

At the full application stage, if your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

The balance of the non-funded project costs must be funded by the project partners.

For feasibility studies you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium sized organisation
  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Research participation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 60% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them. Of that 60% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-S registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.