A major UK supermarket has announced its commitment to support more than 2,000 farmers to move to nature-friendly practices, in a bid to boost finances and combat their impact on climate change.

Waitrose held a farming conference with more than 300 of its farmers and suppliers on Wednesday, July 8 at Leckford Estate near Stockbridge.

The initiative is in response to demand from Waitrose customers, with four in ten said to be worried about the impact that modern farming has on nature and wildlife. 

Waitrose revealed its plan to approach regenerative farming across its estates and supply chain. Regenerative agriculture focuses on improving the health of the soil and the environment, making it healthier and more productive.

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It helps tackle issues such as top-soil erosion which is being accelerated by some farming methods and can make it harder to grow crops. 

Unveiling the plans to its British farmers, executive director James Bailey committed the supermarket to play its part revolutionising the British food system. 

Hampshire Chronicle: More than 300 suppliers and farmers attended the conference at Leckford Estate on Wednesday, May 8More than 300 suppliers and farmers attended the conference at Leckford Estate on Wednesday, May 8 (Image: Philip Panting)

In his speech Mr Bailey announced that Waitrose will work with farmers 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.

Mr Bailey 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.

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“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.”

Waitrose has supermarkets in Winchester, Chandler's Ford, Romsey and Basingstoke.

Key parts of the plan include collaborations with LEAF and the University of Reading. With LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), Waitrose is rolling out its LEAF certification globally to all fresh produce growers by 2026. LEAF has also developed written advice for farmers covering four crucial categories - soil, carbon, biodiversity and water.

The plan also includes 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 works, and the impact changes could have and what they might cost.

Chief executive at LEAF, 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.”

Alongside University of Reading, Waitrose are also establishing a three-year Knowledge Transfer Programme backed by a grant from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Farming for Nature builds on the Partnership’s Plan for Nature and commitment for Waitrose’s UK farms to be Net Zero by 2035, and the Partnership’s clear dedication to play its part in limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.