Agritech innovation has been given a funding boost of £4.78 million to turn cutting-edge research into commercially attractive technology.

The fund will be delivered by the newly formed Ceres Agritech Knowledge Exchange Partnership, which aims to pool the research expertise of five universities and three agricultural research centres with support and expertise of commercial partners.

The Ceres Partnership, will work with business partners to identify, build, invest in and run the most commercially viable development projects focussed on the innovation needs of the agritech sector. The result will be technologies that can be exploited through licences, start-up companies and partnerships with SMEs and large agritech corporations.

The aim is to encourage investment from the sector in a wide range of projects from agricultural robotics, digital systems, and the development of new crop varieties, to new and environmentally friendly ways to treat pests and diseases.

Ceres, which takes its name from the Roman goddess of agriculture, links the universities of Cambridge, Lincoln, East Anglia, Hertfordshire and Reading, as well as the John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research and NIAB.

Professor Simon Pearson, Director of the Lincoln Institute of Agri-food Technology at the University of Lincoln, said: “The agri-food industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector and with our track record for innovation we are well-placed to emerge as a global leader. The Ceres network enables us to take the next step; for the first time it brings together all the world class agricultural research infrastructure located across Lincolnshire and the East of England. It offers opportunities for new collaborations and puts together the expertise needed to tackle key challenges that will underpin future food security.”

The Ceres funding is part of an investment of £67 million through Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund (CCF)* in new collaborative projects to drive forward world-class university commercialisation across the country.

In addition to Research England’s award, Ceres has also secured funding commitments of over £15 million from corporates and technology investors for further investment in high quality commercial opportunities.

Iain Thomas, Head of Life Sciences, Cambridge Enterprise, said: “The time is ripe for catalysing early stage technology transfer in the globally critical agritech sector. Advances in nutrition, genomics, informatics, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, automation and plant sciences have huge potential in precision agriculture and food production. Farmers, food processors and producers are eager to explore and adopt new technologies to improve their competitiveness and efficiency.

“Cambridge University wants to play a significant part in the successful development of an agritech cluster. The Ceres Agritech Knowledge Exchange Partnership builds on models of collaboration, technology acceleration and effective commercial demonstration of proof-of-concept from other technology sectors, such as the pharma-biotech cluster currently flourishing in the Cambridge region. Ceres will supply commercial insight, provide funding and industrial quality project design and delivery capacity.”

The three-year Ceres project starts in April 2018 and will run through March 2021.