waitrose leckford

Source: Waitrose

L-R: Waitrose executive director James Bailey, Professor Carol Wagstaff, research dean for agriculture, food and health at the University of Reading, Waitrose commercial director Charlotte Di Cello, David Webster, chief executive, Leaf

Waitrose has set out plans to support over 2,000 of its British farmers to transition to more to nature-friendly production processes, including regenerative and low-carbon farming.

The retailer aims to boost long-term financial resilience of farms and combat climate change through its Farming for Nature plan.

The strategy responded to an industry-wide need to move to more resilient farming methods and increasing demand from customers, it said.

Waitrose said four in 10 of its customers were worried about the impact of modern farming on nature and wildlife.

The retailer also announced plans to source UK meat, milk, eggs, fruit and veg from farms that use regenerative practices by 2035.

It will achieve that goal by helping British farmers to access affordable finance and providing resources to support their transition to regenerative and low-carbon farming methods.

Waitrose will also work with a group of farmers to develop its understanding of regenerative practices and complete a “state of nature” assessment of all own-brand farms by 2026, so farmers can improve habitats and support biodiversity.

Centre of excellence

Its Leckford Farm, which is used as a testbed for sustainable farming practices, will have a permanent centre for excellence providing tools, workshops, resources and mentoring to help farmers make the shift to regenerative agriculture.

The farm will also be home to field trials and new innovative practices to help inform the retailer’s approach to regenerative practices.

“We want Waitrose customers to know that when they shop with us,they are voting with their purses and wallets for a food system that restores and works in harmony with the natural world, and that supports a financially sustainable future for British farmers,” the supermarket’s executive director James Bailey told farmers at the Waitrose farm.

“We have a duty to help our farmers make the move towards more nature-friendly growing, and we’re committed to playing our part in the revolution that our country’s food system requires,” he added.

The plan will also involve collaboration with Leaf as the supermarket will be rolling out certification globally to all fresh produce growers by 2026.

The accreditation scheme has also developed written advice for farmers covering soil, carbon, biodiversity and water.

With Leaf, Waitrose is also setting up eight satellite farms in the UK on a three-year programme representing a range of farming sectors including beef, dairy, pig, poultry, top and soft fruit, root vegetables and glasshouse.

The aim will be to produce best practice guidance to make it easier for farmers to know what works, the impact changes could have and the costs involved.

Reading Uni partnership

“The agri-food sector increasingly recognises the urgent need to adopt farm management practices that sustain the natural environment while building resilience,” said David Webster, chief executive of Leaf.

“We believe it is only by grounding interventions at farm level, within the context of working farm businesses that we can effectively accelerate change at pace and scale,” he added.

Waitrose has also partnered with the University of Reading to establish a three-year Knowledge Transfer Programme backed by a grant from UK Research and Innovation, in an attempt to bridge the gap between cutting-edge agricultural research and practical farming applications.

Reading has more than a century of expertise in agricultural innovation, and we know that to secure our food and nature in the century ahead, we need to make long-term plans,” said Professor Carol Wagstaff, research dean for agriculture, food and health at the University of Reading.

“Farmers, researchers, retailers and shoppers all have a part to play,” she said. “Farming for Nature provides the leadership wo make Britain’s food system a force for good in fighting climate change and biodiversity loss, while remaining profitable.”