Defra launches £15m development drive

Defra has announced a £15m government-funded drive to pioneer research and development within the UK’s food and farming sector and find ways to transform manufacturing and reduce waste.

Two competitions were launched at the Farming Food and Drink Innovation Summit today, to help industry develop new ideas and products that improve food production and manufacturing while having less impact on the environment.

Up to £15m in grants is on offer to bigger businesses to invest in projects that will increase the efficiency, sustainability and competitiveness of food processing and manufacturing, with a further £500,000 available to small and medium-sized businesses, with grants of up to £25,000.

The drive is being funded by Defra, in combination the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish Government.

The scheme was announced by food and farming minister Jim Paice, who said it showed government was putting the industry back in the spotlight. “Right across government, agri-food is being seen as an important part of our economy and its future growth.

“After years of wallowing in the backwaters, when people talked about industry growth, we now see the food and agri sectors as right up there in the front line.”

He added: “The UK has a world-class reputation for innovation. I want to take this strength and use it to the economic advantage of the whole country.

“That’s why the government is investing £15m in the development of cutting-edge ideas that increase efficiency and reduce waste in farming, food and drink production and manufacturing.

“By getting businesses innovating and enhancing the UK’s reputation as a world-class pioneer of new production and manufacturing techniques, the food and farming sector can be a real engine for growth.”

Following the summit, there will be a series of seven regional workshops to promote the competitions and to allow businesses to find out more. These will be held in Belfast (20 March), Edinburgh (22 March), Leeds (27 March), Peterborough (28 March), Reading (29 March), Exeter (3 April) and Cardiff (4 April).

Yesterday (13 March) Defra announced a £20m funding scheme to make it easier for rural businesses to access work-based training to improve business skills.

The Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) is offering subsidised vocational training, with opportunities in business management, increasing resource efficiency, ITC skills and improving animal health and welfare. It will be delivered through the RDPE Skills and Knowledge Framework.

Farming Minister Jim Paice said: “We’re investing up to £20m in vocational training to help rural and farming enterprises increase their profits and get more competitive. This is the latest in a £165m package of support to help unlock the economic potential of our rural areas.”

As part of this initiative, last month Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman launched a £60m grant scheme to enable rural entrepreneurs, including those in the agri-food sector, to grow their businesses through the Rural Economy Grant scheme and maximise development opportunities in order to target new markets.