Waitrose will use methane produced by cow manure to power tractors at its Leckford Estate farm, in what the supermarket claims is an “industry leading” innovation.
The supermarket has installed a new biomethane storage plant, which will enable it to store and harvest gas produced by manure from the Hampshire estate’s 500-strong herd of cattle. The biomethane will then be used to power tractors, manufactured by New Holland, which have been adapted to run on compressed natural gas.
As part of the installation, Waitrose extended and covered the farm’s manure lagoon. The site is now the size of two Olympic swimming pools.
The system has been created by the energy company Bennamann and will help the supermarket save up to 1,300 tonnes of carbon a year, Waitrose said. It will also help Leckford save on other costs, including diesel.
The efforts form a wider part of Waitrose’s ambition to reach net zero across its operations by 2035. It’s aiming to reach net zero across its wider supply chain, a significant part of which are UK-based farmers, by 2050, outlined in its ‘Plan for Better’ published last year.
“Two years ago we challenged ourselves to use Leckford as an experiment in farming best practices, to pave the way for genuine solutions to help conserve our soil, air and water for the future generations, and our biomethane lagoon does just that,” said Waitrose executive director James Bailey.
“An innovative example to help our farm and hopefully other farms, reach net zero,” he added.
The John Lewis Partnership has owned the wider Leckford Estate – which includes two golf courses, a spa and farm shop – since 1929. Waitrose uses the estate farm to process milk for its premium Duchy Organic range. A limited number of products made from the beef, apples, pears, grapes and oilseed produced at the site are sold in Waitrose stores, under the Leckford label.
The farm forms a relatively small part of Waitrose’s direct supply chain, but the supermarket increasingly aims to use the estate as a “sandbox” for innovation that can then be rolled out and shared with its wider UK farm supply chain. Once the technology is more established, methane from the site could also be used to power trucks and vehicles elsewhere in its logistics network. The supermarket first started switching some of its petrol-powered HGVs to biomethane in 2015.
The supermarket is also currently in discussions to establish an agricultural knowledge transfer scheme with the University of Reading, to make learnings from the site more widely available to the wider farming sector.
“We understand the positive impact farming can have on addressing the effects of climate change and nature loss,” said Andrew Hoad, head of Leckford Estate. “Reduction in use of fossil fuels and capturing fugitive methane are an important part of us becoming carbon net zero as a farm, ahead of our 2035 partnership goal.
“This sits as part of our wider move to regenerative farming and our ambition is to make Leckford a centre of excellence for regenerative farming practices where we can innovate, learn and share with others to help others adopt practices that help nature’s recovery and mitigate the impacts of climate change,” Hoad said.
“We are working as three British-based businesses to deliver industry-leading research & development into more sustainable ways of using farm animal waste and are excited about this technology and its potential to help farmers become more energy independent, pave the way to becoming carbon neutral and support net zero targets.”