Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pre-announcement: protected and controlled environment (PACE) horticulture

Apply for funding for innovation focused research in PACE horticulture

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

Industry partners and contributions are required to provide matched investment through both cash or in-kind contributions.

The full economic cost of your project can be from £250,000 to £750,000. BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

This is a single programme running from 2023 to 2027, with 1 funding round. Awards may last for 2 to 4 years.

This is a pre-announcement and the information may change.

The funding opportunity will open in spring 2023. More information will be available on this page by then.

Who can apply

You must be based at a UK institution eligible for funding in accordance with standard UKRI practice. Standard eligibility criteria apply.

Institutions normally eligible for UKRI funding include:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • UKRI-approved public sector research establishments

Check if your institution is eligible for research and innovation funding.

To be eligible as a principal investigator or co-investigator you must meet at least 1 of the following criteria:

  • be resident in the UK at the time of the application (meaning you spend 183 or more days in the UK in the tax year)
  • be moving to the UK to take up an already agreed contract at an eligible organisation and remain in the UK for the duration of the proposed project (the contract must not be dependent on the outcome of the application)

You must also:

  • be employed by (or scheduled to move to) the eligible research organisation submitting the proposal
  • hold a research staff appointment at the organisation at academic lecturer level or equivalent, resourced from the central funds of the organisation

If you are not employed by the submitting organisation (and not in receipt of funding by non-eligible organisations) you may still apply. However you must have an existing written formal arrangement with the organisation confirming that the research will be conducted as if you are an employee at lecturer level or equivalent, but without salary costs.

Applications from organisations or individuals that are not eligible will be rejected without reference to panel review.

More detailed guidance on organisational and individual eligibility guidelines can be found in section 3 of the BBSRC research grants guide.

If you have any further about eligibility, please email BBSRC at

What we're looking for

Advances associated with PACE horticulture have created an opportunity to completely rethink how crops are grown by integrating technologies into the production of fruit, vegetables, and salads to access significant potential benefits.

Crops grown in protected and controlled environments are ideally suited to the application of digital technologies with the potential to increase yield and quality with fewer inputs or more efficient resource usage. PACE horticulture can also reduce biological, chemical, and other environmental hazards, especially through minimising risks from pests, diseases, and climatic variation. In addition, opportunities exist to introduce automation at every stage of the growing cycle to reduce reliance on labour, which is increasingly a barrier to expanding production.

This is pre-announcement of a planned funding opportunity so that interested applicants may begin contacting potential project partners, including industry partners, in advance of submitting an expression of interest to apply.

Applicants will be invited to submit proposals for research and innovation projects to advance the potential of PACE horticulture systems, within the context of broader challenges relating to the fresh produce sector in the UK including resilience, sustainability and the effective use of resources such as energy. The summary titles of the challenges will be as follows, in the context of horticultural crops for protected and controlled environments:

  • genetic improvement of crops for increased yields, resilience, and quality
  • exploiting of advances in robotics, automation and digital technologies
  • advancing sustainability targets by reducing environmental impacts of through optimising the usage of growing inputs
  • sustainably increasing yield, quality and productivity by better system design and management
  • responding to the need for produce with more novelty, variety, lower prices, higher standards for quality and safety, and nutritional value
  • minimising waste and loss of crops during growth, harvest and post-harvest, by maximising quality and resilience, and conditions for growth and storage
  • developing strategies for managing crop pest and diseases in protected and controlled environment systems to remove or reduce the need for chemical controls
  • addressing lack of evidence, scepticism and the understanding the potential for unintended consequences

Proposals should bring together businesses to partner with academic researchers for innovation focused research activities. These activities should address the potential for PACE horticulture to contribute to wider national goals, which range from generating high-value employment, contributing to food security, advancing net zero targets, and improving biodiversity.

PACE horticulture may contribute towards the diversification of the agri-food system, potentially by complementing conventional field production by adding resilience at key points of vulnerability. Progress needs to be underpinned by research and innovation that supports the resilience of the sector. Growers seek to maintain reliable production of affordable, safe, and nutritious foods, while managing uncertainty and external shocks, such as labour, inflation, energy, invasive pests and diseases, and the availability of growing inputs including fertilisers and fresh water.

Collaborative research and innovation in this area may require accessing a broad range of expertise. Research teams may need to draw upon other specialist groups all of which would need to apply their knowledge to challenges in producing fruit and vegetable crops in protected and controlled growing conditions, including:

  • engineers
  • biologists
  • nutritionists
  • agronomists
  • economists
  • mechatronics
  • systems analysts
  • data scientists
  • social scientists

Proposals should seek to make connections across the supply-chain, considering the needs of groups from growers to retailers, to suppliers and technology providers.

Pre-competitive projects in PACE horticulture could stimulate the formation of a community with coordinated goals, able to identify opportunities for shared investment, and with the potential to collaborate to test proposed solutions within relevant systems. Improved connectivity could also enable better knowledge exchange, encouraging sharing of existing resources, and collective efforts to update previously established models and reference materials for shared benefit.

How we will assess your application

The funding opportunity will involve a 2-stage assessment process:

  • expression of interest (EOI) stage
  • full proposal stage

The received submission to the EOI stage will be reviewed by an assessment panel using published assessment criteria.

BBSRC will invite successful applicants from the EOI stage to submit full proposals for a collaborative research and development award of approximately £250,000 to £750,000 and of 2 to 4 years duration with matched cash or in-kind funding from industry partners to address the innovation challenges of the PACE horticulture sector.

Contact details

Ask about this funding opportunity

Mary Jenkinson-Finch, Portfolio Manager, Horti-tech, BBSRC


Include ‘Horticulture’ in the subject line.

Business Interaction Unit team mailbox


Include ‘Horticulture’ in the subject line.

Additional info

Collaborative research and innovation awards enable academic and industry partners to build pre-competitive partnerships, exchange knowledge, generate data and novel insights that deliver innovation and impact by addressing market failures.

The projects will directly establish innovation-focused research consortia comprising of leading academic and industrial experts, aligned to a set of shared challenges developed in consultation with stakeholders representing the PACE horticulture sector. Together the consortia will form the core of an academic-industry community with a focus upon research and innovation.

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