UK supermarket Waitrose unveils plans to accelerate nature-friendly farming for British farmers

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

James Bailey, Professor Carol Wagstaffe, Charlotte Di Cello and David Webster. Image/Philip Panting
James Bailey, Professor Carol Wagstaffe, Charlotte Di Cello and David Webster. Image/Philip Panting

Related tags regenerative agriculture

Waitrose, a premium grocer with over 350 shops in the UK, and part of Britain's largest employee-owned retailer, the John Lewis Partnership, says it is committing to support more than 2,000 of its British farmers to move to regenerative farming practices, helping to boost financial resilience of farms in the long-term and combat the effects of climate change

The move comes in response to what it calls an industry-wide need to move to more resilient farming methods and demand from Waitrose customers. Four in ten are worried about the impact that modern farming has on nature and wildlife, according to the company.

In a speech to farmers, Executive Director James Bailey announced that Waitrose will work with them to produce food that works in harmony with nature, to source meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables from UK farms which use regenerative practices by 2035.

Speaking to farmers at the Waitrose farm, James Bailey, Waitrose Executive Director, said: “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.

“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.”

How is it defining regen ag?

The supermarket defines regenerative agriculture as a holistic farming system that, among other benefits, improves soil, water and air quality, enhance ecosystem biodiversity, produces nutrient-dense food, and stores carbon to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Key parts of the plan include collaborations with University of Reading and LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), an organisation promoting sustainable food and farming. LEAF works with farmers, the food industry, scientists, environmentalists and consumers to enable sustainable farming. LEAF has also developed written advice for farmers covering four crucial categories; soil, carbon, biodiversity and water

With LEAF, Waitrose is 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 that has been tested and shared more widely in supply chains, making it easier for farmers to know what really works and the impact changes could have and what they might cost.

LEAF Chief Executive David Webster said: “The agri-food sector increasingly recognises the urgent need to adopt farm management practices that sustain the natural environment while building resilience.  

“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. We are therefore delighted to be supporting our longstanding food retail partner Waitrose on Farming for Nature - a highly innovative and far-sighted project.” 

The scheme aims to give a direct resource to information to implement on their own farms

Alongside University of Reading, the supermarket is establishing a three-year Knowledge Transfer Programme backed by a grant from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This partnership, with this highly regarded agricultural university, aims to bridge the gap between cutting-edge agricultural research and practical farming applications, giving farmers a direct resource to information to implement on their own farms. 

Professor Carol Wagstaff, Research Dean for Agriculture, Food and Health at the University of Reading said: “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. 

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

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