Funding competition UK-China: precision for enhancing agricultural productivity

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £5 million 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.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


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 £5 million 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.

The competition closes at midday 12pm UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

The maximum grant available for UK partners is £500,000 per project. The total amount of grant available for Chinese partners is 50,000,000 RMB to fund 10 projects.

Who can apply

State aid

Any UK business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time we confirm you will be awarded funding. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information see our general guidance.

Your project

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.

UK lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

UK project team

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

Multiple applications

Any one UK business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a UK business is not leading an application, it can collaborate in up to 3 applications.

A UK RTO or UK academic institution can collaborate in up to 3 applications.

Previous applications

Resubmissions (UK partners)

You cannot use a resubmission to apply for this competition. A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you have submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

If you submit a new proposal this time you will be able to use it in no more than one future competition that allows resubmissions.

Failure to exploit (UK partners)

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate it to you in writing

Previous projects (UK partners)

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


Innovate UK has allocated up to £5 million 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.

Your proposal

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 we will fund a balanced portfolio of projects across a variety of technologies, markets and industry sectors.

Specific themes

We 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.

Research categories

We will fund experimental development projects, as defined in the general guidance.

Projects we will not fund

We 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.

14 October 2019
Competition opens
5 November 2019
London briefing event
5 November 2019
Online briefing event
15 January 2020 12:00pm
Registration closes
23 January 2020 12:00pm
Competition closes

Before you start

To apply, the UK lead applicant must:

  • register online using the green button
  • get their unique application number and form by entering the username and password we email to them
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • complete and upload your application form to our secure server using Microsoft Word

Applications to MoST

The Chinese partners in your consortium will apply separately according to MoST’s website guidance. For further information on the MoST application process, your Chinese project partners must contact MoST directly.

Background and further information

The challenge

This competition’s funding comes from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The Transforming Food Production challenge’s overall aims are to:

  • help food production systems achieve net zero emissions by 2040
  • help produce food in ways that are more efficient, resilient and sustainable
  • speed up the development and use of integrated precision approaches to improve productivity in agricultural systems

Its specific objectives are listed in the scope of this competition.

Extra help

If you want help to find a UK project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

For UK partners, if you need more information please email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 between 9am and 5:30pm, Monday to Friday.

For Chinese partners, if you need more information please contact MoST directly.

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