Businesses and universities across the United Kingdom (UK) will benefit from £16 million of funding from government money to solve some of the world’s greatest agricultural challenges, according to UK ministers.

This £16 million is part of the second round of funding to be distributed through the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst, announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies in July 2013.

One of the top projects announced is being led by Arch UK Biocides Limited and in collaboration with the University of Durham, the Food and Research Agency (FERA) and I2LRESEARCH LTD. The project is to further develop an environmentally friendly pesticide which is harmless to non-target species including bees. This next generation pesticide will use naturally occurring peptides, found in spider venom, to produce an orally effective treatment which can be produced commercially.

Venom peptides, known to be harmless to mammals, are fused to a ‘carrier’ protein that can then be applied to crops on a large scale. When treated crops are eaten by pests, such as slugs or beetles, the ‘carrier’ protein transports the spider toxin from the pests gut and into the nervous system; eradicating the threat without impacting on other species.

The initial program will develop formulations targeting slugs and beetle pests of wheat and oil seed rape, it was announced.

The government and industry funding for the United Kingdom agricultural research has government ministers claiming the UK is a leader in public financed agriculture research—especially in alternatives to conventional crop protection products and livestock production.

“As much as a third of the food we consume is pollinated by bees, and, therefore, addressing the threats they face is a very real challenge for society. From the cotton required for the shirts on our backs, to the sprouts we enjoy at Christmas, none of these would be possible without bees,” said Greg Clark, universities, science and cities minister.

“I am pleased that the Agri-Tech catalyst is supporting innovative projects that can effect real change for the better. It is groundbreaking projects like these which are establishing the UK as a world leader in agriculture technology, innovation and sustainability,” he said.

Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said, “These exciting catalyst projects all contribute to making the UK a world leader in agricultural science, growing the food and farming sector and improving our environment.

“The development of a new bee-friendly pesticide is a great example of using science to protect our food production and our rural economy for the future.

“We want the UK to continue to be at the forefront of future innovation for horticulture which is why we’ve also invested an additional £10 million to improve the way we grow fruits and potatoes.”

Other projects which have received Agri-Tech Catalyst and industry funding include:

  • Optimizing the efficiency of beef farming by monitoring the feeding behavior and growth of individual cows.
  • Developing a new lamb grading system based on imaging technology to more accurately assess meat, with potential to drive lamb breeding strategies to meet consumer requirements.
  • Decreasing food waste of tomato and pepper production by suspending ripening at optimum eating quality without using chemicals.
  • Increasing oat yields by developing new tools for growers, including translation of sensor data from unmanned aircraft systems to optimize growing conditions.
  • Addressing the effects of climate change on black currant production by assessing the use of treatments to combat warmer winters used in other crops.

The £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Department for International Development. The Agri-Tech Catalyst is run by Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.