STFC Newton Agri-Tech Fund: Network+ Open Innovation (Sandpit) Workshop

Call for expressions of interest

Fully-funded places are available to attend a workshop in China to develop and secure funding for proof-of-concept research on the application of space science and related technologies to support Chinese Agriculture. The workshop will be held on 5-8 November 2017, and we expect to inform successful applicants on 2nd October.

The STFC Newton Agri-Tech Programme

The Newton Fund is an initiative to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and emerging knowledge economies and will deliver £375 million of funding over the course of five year with China one of the most important partner countries in the programme. The STFC Newton Agri-Tech Programme is a £12 million initiative over the period of 5 years, to use the UK and China’s research expertise in remote sensing, data processing, modelling & simulation in agricultural technology (agri-tech) to work with and aid the Chinese farming community. The programme uses space technology to develop practical solutions in the following domains:

  • Sustainable intensification
  • Climate smart farming
  • Pests and diseases
  • Precision Agriculture

The Newton Agri-Tech Network+ Open Innovation Workshops

The Network+ programme is one of the component projects of the STFC Newton Agri-Tech programme. Network+ supports the programme portfolio by developing and funding new initiatives, supporting project and programme communications and networking, and helping develop commercialisation opportunities for satellite-enabled technologies.

Network+ runs periodic Open Innovation workshops to develop and fund new ideas for the sector. These workshops include both UK and China delegates, with a view to stimulating new partnerships between the countries. This first “sandpit” workshop will focus on innovating new solutions to problems identified by China Agriculture University Science and Technology Backyard scheme, which develops participatory farmer solutions to agricultural productivity problems in China (see Workshop Scope below). Participation in the sandpits is by invitation only, and successful applicants will receive full funding including flights, accommodation and internal travel.

Up to £60,000 is available to fund suitable projects that are generated during the workshop, and those not funded will be eligible to apply for the next Network+ open call which will be released later in November this year. Therefore, the workshop provides an excellent opportunity for building new partnerships in China, and to get funding for proof-of concept research that will directly impact on the economic growth and wellbeing of rural communities (compatible with ODA requirements), and potentially lead to larger projects in the future.

Workshop Background

The Science and Technology Backyard system

Ten years ago, China Agricultural University’s Department of Plant Nutrition set up its first “Science and Technology Backyard” in a village near its research station in Quzhou in Hebei province, about 400 km south of Beijing in the North China Plain. The aim was for graduate students to engage, involve and help grow the villagers’ capacity to do better agriculture, whilst at the same time doing their degree studies on the agriculture improvement subjects at hand. Over the years, the network of STBs has grown to 82 STBs ( in many of the agroecological zones of the country, representing a unique base for the development of appropriate solutions and technologies that can address the current challenges in China’s farming sector today. In September last year, some of their work was published in the journal Nature:

Regional optimal systems (the average “best” for the area in question) have been developed for all the agro-ecological areas of China, but variation within these regions is considerable, and so in addition to developing practical technological applications with the farming communities, the STB network also pushes back the boundaries of farming in China, taking a broader approach by trialling new systems and solutions that increase the efficiency and decrease the environmental footprint at a sub-regional level.

CAU has recently identified two key needs for the STBs:

Better connecting farmers to services (e.g. agronomy advice) and markets

Scaling up the successes of the STBs beyond village level to county, and province level.

Workshop scope

The Workshop will develop and fund new UK-China initiatives that use satellite-enabled technologies to address the following:

A system to link satellite data for decision making and resulting recommendations to farmers

A village-level management information system that uses satellite and UAV-derived data for field-specific precision crop management

A system to delineate management zones, possibly using satellite remote sensing images

Robotic systems for grafting seedlings

County-level strategies and technologies for precision crop management

The projects will be focused in three STB’s that represent different scales of production – Large scale farming in Heilongjiang province (20-30 ha), medium scale farming in Jilin Province (1-2 ha), and small scale farming in Hebei province (0.3 – 0.5 ha).

UK and China attendees will be invited to attend based on their capacity and interest to contribute to achieving these key aims.

Workshop purpose

The Workshop will:

Generate, synthesize and prioritize new UK-China agri-tech ideas that address the development needs of the STBs.

Approve Network+ funding for selected projects.

Support applicants in developing further project ideas and proposals for submission to the Network+

Workshop results

New funded projects

Formation of new UK-China partnerships

Mutual understanding of the challenges facing farmers in China

On-site visits to farms

Portfolio of project ideas for subsequent development under the umbrella of the Network+


5-8 November 2017, based at the CAU West Campus in Beijing,China,with a pre-discussion visit to Quzhou experimental station and local STBs in Hebei province.


Day 0 Saturday, 4 November          Arrival in Beijing

Day 1 Sunday 5 November            Travel to and visit Quzhou research centre and STBs

Day 2 Monday 6 November            Continue at Quzhou, return to Beijing

Day 3 Tuesday 7 November           Workshop discussions in Beijing

Day 4 Wednesday 8 November      Workshop discussions in Beijing

Day 5 Thursday 9 November         Depart Beijing (or other visits as attendees may wish to arrange)

Call for expressions of interest

.Interested applicants from the UK and China should fill the attached form (below) and return it to by close of business on 26 September 2017.

Applicants should clearly indicate on the form if they request funding support for attendance. Attendance is by invitation only. Places are limited and the organisers will select and approve attendees.


Attendees Application Form

  1. Proposed attendee information 

Name of organisation  


Full address


Website address


Name of proposed attendee 


Position of contact in the organisation


Email address of proposed attendee


Phone number of proposed attendee


Area of interest / expertise 



  • Case for support - max. 300 words

Please explain what you can offer to the workshop in terms of expertise and experience, and what you would 

like to receive back from the workshop activity in terms of collaboration with specific disciplines, improved understanding, 

new project in a specific area relevant to:   what you could contribute to achievement of the workshop aims – i.e. funded

 projects using satellite-enabled technologies that contribute to:

  • a system to link satellite data for decision making and resulting recommendations to farmers 
  • a village-level management information system that uses satellite and UAV-derived data for field-specific precision crop management
  • a system to delineate management zones, possibly using satellite remote sensing images
  • robotic systems for grafting seedlings
  • county-level strategies and technologies for precision crop management









  • Travel & Visa Requirements

Please indicate: 

  • if you need to organise a China visa to attend the workshop
  • if you request funding to cover visa and transportation costs to attend the workshop
  • if there are any other issues related to travel 
















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