Tree Production Innovation Fund

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Latest

The Tree Production Innovation Fund (TPIF) has been designed to encourage the development and adoption of new technologies and ways of working that will enhance the quantity, quality and diversity of tree planting stock available for planting in England.

By 2025, the government is seeking to dramatically increase tree planting to 10,000 hectares per year in England. To meet these planting targets domestically will require a corresponding increase in the UK production of tree planting material.

The TPIF is looking to support projects with outputs that will better equip nurseries to supply the trees required for new woodlands and urban planting projects. Applicants will be invited to apply for between £20K and £200K in grant funding to support innovative projects that address one or more of the following challenges identified as barriers to tree nursery production.

The challenges

Challenge 1: How can we make better use of available seed and vegetative planting material to maximise the quantity, quality and diversity of trees produced?

A variety of issues can lead to a low conversion rate of seed and vegetative material to trees for planting in nurseries. Seeds are in limited supply and it is vital that we maximise the efficient use of the supplies that we have.

  • seed quality, and therefore viability, may be affected by a range of factors. Seed quality encompasses purity, viability and health of the batch. Optimised techniques for tree seed harvesting, processing, screening and storage all have potential to improve quality and biosecurity of seed made available to nurseries
  • even viable seed can be very hard to germinate and successfully establish, especially for the many tree species which have deeply dormant seed. Projects might seek to develop enhanced treatments such as priming which can enhance synchronicity and speed of germination. Seed coatings can modify seed shape and size (which can facilitate use of machinery in seed processing and nurseries) and deliver beneficial compounds from nutrients to pesticides
  • enhancing the diversity of tree species and provenances available for planting will present specific challenges. Some of the species which are not commonly available in tree nurseries at present may present particular germination and establishment difficulties which may require the adoption of new techniques and approaches. In particular, we would encourage proposals that demonstrate potential to facilitate or overcome barriers to broadleaf production

Challenge 2: How can we develop growing systems to enhance their efficiency and resilience to change, whilst delivering improved quality and diversity of product? This challenge can include activities to promote biosecurity.

Nurseries face sometimes contradictory challenges to enhance quantity of tree planting stock, whilst also enhancing quality and diversity. This is exacerbated by several other key challenges facing the sector. Exploring alternative novel growing systems has the potential to significantly enhance the quantity, quality and diversity of trees produced whilst better managing key inputs.

  • labour supply issues are identified by tree nurseries as limiting to productivity. The sector is currently reliant on seasonal workers that can be difficult to source, and recruitment of labour poses a challenge to nurseries in a post-EU landscape. Automation such as systems for pricking out or grading is evident in other growing sectors but has been a challenge to introduce into the tree production sector, for example because nurseries deal with smaller volumes and a wider diversity of species. The development or adoption of appropriate automation to increase nursery efficiencies and capacity is required to overcome labour uncertainty. In addition, developments would reduce the need for repetitive manual labour and present opportunities for higher quality jobs (i.e. running of planting machinery)
  • recently the sector has seen some shift from field grown to cell grown plants and further innovations that widen uptake or accessibility of these techniques, or develop novel transplanting or planting systems, could significantly enhance production. We would be particularly interested to hear from applicants with proposals that can facilitate such processes without increasing nursery reliance on peat
  • projects might explore other means to enhance the efficiency of production such as developing new ways to reduce or manage inputs such as water or reduce the risk of climatic impacts. An enhanced application of understanding of soil health, nutrition or the role of mycorrhiza might also improve growth and establishment rates
  • as with seed, a move to enhance the diversity of species and provenances produced will present some specific challenges and projects which seek to overcome these would be welcome. Ensuring the traceability of different provenances of stock is a specific challenge of interest
  • biosecurity and the use of best practice standards underpin the production of high-quality tree planting stock. Projects might explore the use of novel technologies or processes that help growers to achieve biosecurity standards and encourage wider uptake of best practice

Challenge 3: How can innovative environmentally sustainable weed control solutions be used to reduce reliance on herbicides?

In recent years the sector has begun to adapt nursery practices to reduce use of chemical herbicides. The sector faces a considerable challenge to reduce reliance on such products without turning to alternatives which are equally environmentally unsustainable, whether it be in the context of greenhouse gas emissions, impact on biodiversity or other considerations. Solutions to this challenge are vital in order to maintain the productivity of the sector.

What funding is available?

In 2021/2022, up to £1 million of innovative project work will be supported via capital grants with values of between £20K and £200K each. Eligible costs that may be claimed will include:

  • personnel cost related to researchers, and other supporting staff to the extent employed on the project
  • costs of equipment for the period of the project. Where such equipment is not used for their full life only the depreciation costs corresponding to the life of the project shall be eligible
  • costs of contractual research, knowledge and patents bought or licensed from outside sources at arm’s-length conditions, as well as costs of consultancy and equivalent services used exclusively for the project
  • operating expenses, including costs of materials, supplies and similar products, incurred directly as a result of the project

Am I eligible?

The TPIF is open to a wide range of applicants from the private sector and we would welcome applications from consortia and new entrants to the sector.

The following groups are identified as likely potential applicants to the fund:

  • private sector nurseries, organisations and seed suppliers
  • public bodies partnered with private sector third party organisations
  • research institutes
  • universities and colleges
  • environmental NGOs (e.g. Wildlife Trusts)
  • horticultural and agricultural growers

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Pro Arb August/September 2021