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Almost £45m in competitions and grants are set to open in the coming weeks as part of the government’s £168m investment this year to support farmers 

The environment secretary has unveiled a further £45m in investment for farming innovation to champion British agriculture.

Steve Barclay, Defra secretary, used his first major speech at the Country Land and Business Association Conference in London last week to outline his commitment to backing British farmers and being on the side of rural businesses.

Almost £45m in competitions and grants are set to open in the coming weeks as part of the government’s £168m investment this year to support farmers to foster innovation, boost productivity and improve animal welfare.

Part of this includes an initial £30m in the second round of the Improving Farming Productivity Grant, providing capital grants of between £25,000 and £50,000 towards robotic and automatic equipment, with further funding available depending on levels of interest.

Increased automation has long been hearalded as a solution to the years of worker shortages and pressure on the labour supply chain.

It will also fund grants of between £15,000 and £100,000 towards solar equipment which can be fitted on rooftops and float irrigation reservoirs, helping increase energy resilience and take-up of renewable energy generation on farms.

Additionally, almost £8m will be available in the third round of the Large R&D Partnership, a competition designed to boost industrial research and experimental development projects.

There will be a further £85,000 through the Research Starter Round 4 competition to identify and accelerate new agricultural solutions, funding growers or foresters who have ambitious, early-stage ideas.

The government said this funding will not only see farmers become more efficient and productive, but will also equip them with the knowledge and tools to maintain a high degree of food security.

“My pledge to you is that this government will always back British farmers, who produce some of the highest quality food in the world, contribute billions to our economy, and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for taking care of our countryside,” said Barclay at the conference.

Barclay also announced the launch of the third round of the Natural Environment Readiness Fund with individual grants of up to £100,000 on offer from a total of £5m.

This round has been designed to support farmers to prepare nature projects that will help attract investment from the private sector.

Defra has also said 2024 will see the extension of the Farming Innovation Programme grants to include the Accelerating Development of Practices and Technologies fund, where businesses will be able to apply for a share of £44m to test and trial new technology and techniques on farms.