The purpose of this opportunity is to establish a single Network Plus (network plus research) on sustainable agri-food for net zero, to convene and catalyse an interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder community and support feasibility projects. These projects will explore how sectoral transformation can be most effectively catalysed.
The Network Plus will provide research and innovation evidence in support of strategies to sustainably reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from the agri-food sector. The Network Plus will also consider approaches to adapt UK agri-food systems to ensure sustainability and increased resilience to climate change and the resulting environmental impacts, including:
- biodiversity loss
- changes in land use
- other ecosystem services.
This Network Plus will support the radical transformation of the agri-food system required to enable the UK to meet its net zero target.
Identifying the most effective route to such transformation will require a coordinated and interdisciplinary research and innovation approach that covers the wider agri-food system and agri-based ecosystem services, as well as consumer and producer behaviour changes.
It will also require the development of supporting digital technologies and coordinated, reliable datasets, and the alignment of stakeholders expertise and priorities across the UK agri-food landscape.
UKRI seeks to support a Network Plus that does the following:
Facilitate working together across the agri-food system
It must facilitate researchers working together from across the agricultural, biological, natural, environmental, physical, engineering, economic and social sciences. It must also help researchers work with:
- other disciplines, for example, data science
- stakeholders, in the UK agri-food system, (from primary production to consumption and waste) such as business and policy makers.
Take a whole system perspective
It must take a whole agri-food system perspective covering the full UK agri-food system, from primary production (agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture) and food processing (food and drink manufacture) to food retail, consumption, and waste management.
However, we expect an appropriate focus on primary production, as this is the main source (Nature) (71%) of emissions from the sector.
Complement previous and current UKRI investment
To add value to the current landscape, including building on new opportunities highlighted by previous networking activities, it must complement:
- previous and current UKRI investments
- those of other funders in the agri-food space.
Identify challenges and propose future research
- identify ambitious ‘real-world’ challenges to which interdisciplinary research can contribute
- propose an agenda for future research that would support transition of the UK agri-food system to net zero, while reversing biodiversity loss and ensuring resilience of the system.
Collaborate across the UK and address UK production
It must reach across the UK and be a new collaboration involving contributors with a wide range of experience and expertise. It should primarily address UK production but any impacts that can be translated to the production of food imported into the UK are welcomed.
Create new connections
It must create new connections by bringing together disciplines not currently engaged with agri-food challenges to realise new opportunities for impact in the sector.
Researchers from different disciplines will have much to contribute and the Network Plus should be inclusive and inspire change. In particular, researchers from some engineering and physical science and economic and social science disciplines with much to offer should be encouraged to participate in the Network Plus so they can:
- forge new links with established agri-food stakeholders
- collaborate with academics already active in agri-food
- aim to contribute to tackling the challenges in the sector.
Expectations for the Network Plus
The Network Plus will provide leadership by:
- establishing an interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder community that spans across UKRI’s research and innovation remit and includes key actors and major stakeholder groups in the agri-food sector
- delivering a roadmap setting out a research and innovation trajectory with clearly defined short, medium and long-term delivery targets.
Facilitate community connections
The Network Plus will facilitate community connections through establishing new collaborations and partnerships. These will identify the key priorities and co-design transformative research and innovation projects that would deliver visible and measurable impact towards addressing the key challenges, with particular attention to the needs of farmers and the wider society.
Engage in active dialogue with stakeholders
The Network Plus will engage in active dialogue to ensure the research and innovation community is involved in:
- discussing the short, medium and long-term issues
- defining practical problems for which strategies and trajectories for possible solutions are required to facilitate a sustainable transition of the UK agri-food sector to net zero by 2050.
Support a portfolio of interdisciplinary feasibility projects
The Network Plus will support a portfolio of projects which will identify areas where significant impact can be made towards achieving net zero through further research and innovation.
It is expected that part of the funding for research activities of the Network Plus is used to support the inclusion of disciplines currently not having a significant impact in agri-food. Applications are required to demonstrate how their proposal will address this broadening of the interdisciplinary base of the agri-food community.
Provide input into UK policy
The Network Plus will provide input into UK policy for the agri-food sector by supporting evidence-based work to inform:
- skills needs.
Improve knowledge exchange, translation, and commercialisation
The Network Plus will improve knowledge exchange, translation and commercialisation to facilitate impact.
Consultation with the research and user communities has identified that a systems approach is necessary to significantly progress the complex challenge of achieving net zero.
Such an approach should consider the wider agri-food system and agri-based ecosystem services, as well as consumer and producer behaviour changes, supported by large and reliable data sets to develop digital technologies for effective monitoring.
Whole systems approaches are needed so that trade-offs are understood by engaging with the resource priorities and time pressures across the entirety of agriculture and food. Therefore, applicants should ensure that the network is structured to encourage a whole systems approach and interdisciplinary working.
UKRI’s priorities in the area of agri-food can be broadly considered under four thematic areas embodied in a systems view:
- sustainable environment:
- climate change and planning for resilience
- biodiversity and other environmental co-benefits
- soil health and function
- land management and use from field to landscape scale
- sustainable primary production:
- livestock and management of emissions
- plant and animal breeding and genetics for adaptation and resilience
- novel agricultural systems and technologies, for example alternative protein production, controlled environment, precision farming and use of robotics and autonomous systems
- reducing fertiliser, manure, slurry and organic matter related emissions
- sustainable processing manufacturing and consumption, for example:
- decarbonising food and drink manufacture (for example refrigeration)
- consumer behaviour and dietary preferences
- producer response to changing consumer preferences
- understanding cultures, traditions and social movements around food and farming that can be barriers to adoption and influence social acceptability
- agri-food systems and bioeconomy, for example:
- decarbonising farms (including machinery and vehicles), on farm energy generation, bioenergy crops
- net zero agri-food business models and policy, facilitate adoption of new production practices
- circular economy for agri-food system to better make use of waste streams
- sensing, efficient, and effective measurements to better understand the production of GHG in the agri-food system
- complex system modelling, data analysis, artificial intelligence, digital twin development to inform the necessary changes in agri-food.
The examples given under each theme are indicative and represent a non-exhaustive and non-prescriptive list. Applicants are expected to structure the themes and priorities within their application as they consider most appropriate.
Proposals should clearly explain the approach(es) that would be taken to ensure the Network Plus covers thematic areas in an integrated manner.
We will invest a total of £4 million to support one Network Plus (at 80% full economic cost). This funding amount has been confirmed since the call went live and applicants who submit an expression of interest will be informed of this confirmed amount.
An award will be made for up to 36 months duration.
Funding requested under the ‘directly allocated’ cost heading may include investigators’ salaries. The principal investigator and up to 10 co-investigators can request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on setting up and leading the Network Plus. The salary costs of Network Plus participants should not be included in the proposal.
Funding requested under the ‘directly incurred’ cost heading may include the following costs.
Travel and subsistence
Travel and subsistence can be requested when enabling members of the Network Plus to meet to exchange ideas and expertise. This may include visits by or to experts overseas. This may also include travel and subsistence costs to support secondments. Where possible, collaborators should meet their own travel costs.
A sufficient level of administrative support should be requested to ensure the coordination, management and smooth running of the Network Plus. Reasonable costs for monitoring and dissemination of the network’s output can also be included.
Organisation of activities
Funding can be requested for costs involved in running activities such as:
- networking events
- expert working groups
- online discussion forums
- problem-solving workshops.
Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of the Network Plus goals.
Research activity to support the research strategy developed within the Network Plus. Funds can be requested for:
- postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA) staff
- travel and subsistence
- any other costs eligible under ‘directly incurred’ headings.
This is likely to include a budget for feasibility studies (but not to demonstrator phase or beyond technology readiness level four) that can be allocated to researchers at other universities. We expect this to be a nationwide effort involving the best people.
Applicants will need to think carefully about how this feasibility studies budget will be commissioned, processes for the allocation of funds must be fair and transparent.
Please note that the feasibility funds will be restricted to UKRI current research organisation eligibility, but will not be bound by standard UKRI investigator eligibility criterion.
It is the principal investigator’s responsibility to ensure ongoing governance to ensure correct usage and accountability of the funds. UKRI would expect some examples of the types of projects at the application stage, but the research challenges should evolve during the Network Plus activities and should be co-created with stakeholders and be collaborative in nature.
Engagement and access
Funds can be requested for engagement activities, such as engaging with farmers and accessing agricultural sites.
Activities to identify and disseminate key research challenges in the area
Funds can be requested for activities, such as horizon-scanning studies.
Activities to facilitate impact and advance policy
Funds can be requested for activities, such as reports, websites and briefings
Funds can be requested for support including scoping of potential opportunities, travel and subsistence.
Activities to support career development
Funds can be requested for activities including training, knowledge exchange visits and mentoring.
Activities to connect users, industry, and other stakeholders with the research base
Funds can be requested for activities including stakeholder workshops and engagements with farmers and small and medium sized enterprises to support participation.
Funds can be requested for communication costs and for additional equipment such as personal computers and web servers.
Funds can be requested for equipment to support networking, events and communication.
Equipment over £10,000 is not available through this opportunity. We will not be funding laboratory or research equipment for this opportunity. We will only support equipment to facilitate communication, networking, and events.
Further information on allowable costs.
Please also see additional grant conditions in the ‘additional information’ section to help shape your proposal.