Fruit picking robots and vertical farming receive government funding

A fruit picking robot scheme led by Saga Robotics in Lincoln will receive nearly £2.5 million as part of a new UK government funding initiative to drive efficiency in food production.

The programme, dubbed Robot Highways (Lincoln), will involve robots assisting farmers by carrying out energy intensive physical farm processes such as picking and packing fruit and treating crops to reduce critical pests and diseases.

It is one of nine new projects supported by a £24 million package from the UK government, where big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics are being used to help cuts costs in UK farming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food supply chain.

Another project in Nottingham that converts carbon dioxide into clean animal feed is also receiving more than £2 million to generate clean, sustainable food for fish and poultry with a smaller carbon footprint. Led by Nottingham company Deep Branch Biotechnology and part of local consortium React-First, the project will turn carbon dioxide from Drax Power’s Selby power station into animal food with minimal water usage and without the need for arable farmland.

The funding will help the group use technology to create a greener alternative to soy and fishmeal for the animal industry, enabling industries that traditionally create higher levels of waste, such as agriculture, to improve their environmental footprint, according to the government.

Grocery chain Sainsbury’s and the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre are working with the programme.

Science minister, Amanda Solloway, said: “From robotics assisting our farmers in fruit picking, to technology that converts CO2 to clean animal feed, the incredible projects we are backing today represent the future of farming.

“Working with the best of British science, we are turning our most creative ideas into pioneering projects that will accelerate our transition to net zero food production, boost jobs and drive forward the UK’s economic recovery.”

Other projects receiving funding include an autonomous growing system led by Optimal Labs in London, and InFarm2.x – another programme based in the capital that aims to develop a farming system to grow a wider variety of fruit and vegetables than is currently possible by producing crops in vertically stacked levels, rather than on a single level surface, such as a field.

The latter project is led by vertical farming business, InFarm, and will receive over £3 million in government support.

iStock photo credit: leonori