Waitrose to support British farmers in shift to regenerative practices

Image: Philip Panting for Waitrose. Pictured: Waitrose Executive Director James Bailey, Waitrose Commercial Director Charlotte Di Cello, David Webster, Chief Executive, LEAF.

The supermarket, part of the John Lewis Partnership, has been trialling regenerative agriculture approaches on its Leckford Estate farm in Hampshire since 2020. It will now ramp up efforts to share learnings from this work with British suppliers of meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Farmers will be supported to adopt practices that improve soil health and biodiversity while reducing emissions and pollution. These include reducing tilling, planting cover crops and shifting to alternative fertilisers.

Waitrose will draw up plans to help farmers access preferential finance rates for adopting regenerative farming practices and guarantee these small businesses a route to market.

Additionally, practical support will be provided. Leckford farm will serve as a permanent ‘centre of excellence’ hosting trials, workshops and visits, with educational events and resources also set to be provided online.

Waitrose will also convene a working group of farmers to enhance understanding of the practices currently used across different supply chains, and how they can be made more ‘nature-friendly’. By 2026, the supermarket will assess the state of nature on all of its own-brand farms in the UK and help these farmers to create land management and improvement plans.

Additionally, Waitrose is seeking to ensure that all of its fresh produce growers globally are certified under the LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) mark by 2026. Some competitors such as Aldi UK and Tesco have already achieved full certification for British produce.

Eight UK-based farms will work with Waitrose and LEAF to identify best practices for improving outcomes across soil, carbon, biodiversity and water.

“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,” said Waitrose’s executive director James Bailey.

The John Lewis Partnership first launched a sweeping ‘plan for nature’ in October 2022.

Farming transition

The UK is classed as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with less than one-tenth of its biodiversity intact. One in six plant and animal species in Britain is at risk of extinction according to the most recent ‘State of Nature’ report.

The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and WWF both identify farming becoming more intense and widespread as a key driver of this nature depletion.

The UK Government has forged ahead with post-Brexit reforms to farmer payment schemes in a bid to incentivise production methods which have a lower negative impact – or, indeed, a positive impact – on nature. Enhancements to payments were announced in January as the schemes matured.

Some farmers are advocating for even steeper increases.

However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has slammed other administrations, including the Welsh Government, for going further to incentivise nature-related activities and disincentivise intensive food production. He has done little to quell the culture war pitting food security and environmental sustainability against one another, instead blocking farmers from putting more than 25% of their land aside for activities that boost nature but decrease food outputs.

Comments (1)

  1. Carole Shorney says:

    Re this paragraph:
    The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and WWF both identify farming becoming more intense and widespread as a key driver of this nature depletion.

    This reminds me of what an organic farmer told me in 2016, just after the Referendum; that there would be intensive farming right up to the Scottish border. Is he correct?

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