+44 (0)1509 261182

UK-China: Precision for enhancing agricultural productivity


UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £5million to work with Chinese partners to develop new integrated precision farming technology and help achieve net-zero emissions. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China (MoST) are each investing around £5million in innovation projects. Innovate UK will fund the UK partners and MoST will fund the Chinese partners.

The aim of this competition is to encourage the use of data-intensive methods for commercial farming. This approach, described as either ‘precision farming’ or ‘smart farming’, is defined as the complete incorporation of:

  • Monitoring
  • Intelligent decision support
  • Action planning
  • Timely and effective intervention autonomous technologies (sensors, systems, vehicles and robotics)
  • Data-driven solutions to enhance productivity while reducing emissions

Your project must be business-led and aim to develop one or both of the following:

  • Autonomous technologies (sensors, systems, vehicles and robotics)
  • Data-driven solutions to enhance productivity while reducing emissions

Your solution must have the potential to improve productivity and sustainability. It must lead to a significant reduction of emissions from agriculture, contributing to the target of net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The UK part of this competition’s funding comes from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). Your project must align with specific objectives 1, 4 and 5 of the Transforming Food Production challenge.

The challenge’s specific objectives are to:

  1. Create integrated data-driven solutions to drive primary agricultural productivity whilst driving towards net zero emissions.
  2. Embed adoption of precision approaches to bridge the productivity gap, strengthening connections between researchers, businesses and practitioners.
  3. Stimulate the establishment of novel high value production systems to position UK technologies at the forefront of new industries.
  4. Drive growth in UK precision technology companies, creating high value jobs and adding value in the UK agricultural value chain.
  5. Develop export opportunities and increase investment into UK research and innovation.

Your project must focus on one or both of:

  • Autonomous technologies (sensors, systems, vehicles and robotics)
  • Data-driven solutions to enhance productivity and reduce emissions

Projects must engage with commercial end users. This could include using demonstration sites, farms, labs or other R&D facilities in either the UK, China, or both.

To achieve the challenge’s objectives, Innovate UK will fund a balanced portfolio of projects across a variety of technologies, markets and industry sectors.

Innovate UK envisage projects falling into one or more of the following broad categories.

Remote sensing for decision making

These can sense crop growth and nutrients, soil health, weather, crop yield prediction, water stress management or pest control. Remote sensing technologies include satellites and drones, as well as in-situ sensors, linked by appropriate data connections.

Smart pasture production

This can include animal feeding systems, analysis of herds and individual animals, farm-wide environmental control systems, methane emission reduction and improving animal welfare.

Precision technologies for indoor or controlled environment agriculture

These can be vertical farming, planting, transplanting, harvesting, precision watering or fertiliser application.

Systems exploiting big data

Create systems that collect, aggregate and analyse farm data to improve productivity. They must develop protocols that enable data sharing, interfaces, and data exchange.

Robotic systems for agriculture

Develop robotic systems to analyse soil conditions. These can include detection and prediction of pests and diseases, making precision applications of agrochemicals, planting and transplanting, or cloud-based robot control systems.

The maximum grant available for UK partners is £500,000 per project.

Projects must start by April 2020 and end by March 2022. Projects can last up to 24 months.

Projects are bilateral and must show equal effort from the Chinese and UK partners. Your project must have one common work plan. The Chinese and UK partners must have main roles and responsibilities. The work must have similar time and costs in both countries.

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business of any size
  • Collaborate with other UK-registered businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities
  • Carry out its project work in the UK (and in China where reasonable)
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

To collaborate with the UK lead organisation your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered business, academic institution, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • Be invited to take part by the UK lead applicant

Your UK and Chinese consortium must include:

  • At least one UK academic institution or RTO
  • At least one Chinese business of any size, established with corporate capacity within the mainland of the People’s Republic of China
  • At least one Chinese academic institution or research organisation established with corporate capacity within the mainland of the People’s Republic of China

You should aim to have UK and China funding requests that are as close to equal as possible.

The UK lead and at least one other UK organisation must claim funding.

Your proposal must demonstrate value for money by including partners that:

  • Have appropriate resources such as technology, assets and experience
  • Are commercial end users

Any one UK business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further two applications.

If a UK business is not leading an application, it can collaborate in up to three applications.

A UK RTO or UK academic institution can collaborate in up to three applications.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £5million to fund innovation projects in this competition. For experimental development projects you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • Up to 45% if you are a micro or small business
  • Up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • Up to 25% if you are a large business

The UK research organisations in the UK consortium can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum is shared between them.

For the purposes of this competition, the stated exchange rate UK £ to Chinese yuan is:

1 GBP = 8.75 RMB

You must use this indicative exchange rate in all calculations during the competition process.

This competition provides state aid funding under Article 25, Collaborative Research and Development, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Innovate UK are not funding:

  • Earlier stage research that will not be ready to be commercialised at the end of the project
  • Projects which don’t meet the scope and the objectives of the challenge

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.