Waitrose is to open a new beef production facility at its Leckford Estate farm in Hampshire as part of a wider project to increase its red meat production and share best practice with its wider supply chain.
The new facility will replace Leckford’s existing dairy unit and would also create opportunities for increased crop production and regenerative agriculture practices, Waitrose said.
It is hoping to have a suckler herd of around 450 in total, which will produce about 150 beef cattle annually that will graze on water meadows, chalk downland and pasture.
It means the retailer will ultimately be able to source a percentage of the meat it sells sourced directly from its own farm.
Over the next decade and as part of its 10 year Agriculture Strategy, Waitrose intends to share learnings gathered from these practices with all its sourcing partners.
“This will help Waitrose influence its farmers and producers on farming best practice, ensuring they farm with nature and in an environmentally friendly way,” it said.
“Regenerative agriculture will be vital in our planet’s response to climate change and mixed arable and livestock farming is the key to unlocking the door,” said Andrew Hoad, the head of the Leckford Estate.
“Retaining cattle on the farm means providing a rich source of organic matter, which will improve soil quality and contribute to multiple benefits including greater biodiversity, improved water efficiency and increased biosequestration,” he added.
“Not only will this be good for the environment, it will be good for our customers too as we can ensure we continue to grow high quality crops and produce whilst using nature balanced solutions to encourage wildlife and benefit nature.”
Waitrose’s status as the only supermarket “to own our own farm” gave it a “unique opportunity to lead by example”, said its executive director James Bailey.
“Leckford is not only an important producer of our food, it is a test bed for best practice and farming innovation. Over the coming years, we will take those learnings to tweak our approach and share them with all our suppliers to ensure best practice across our whole supply chain.”
Like all Waitrose beef, the cattle produced at Leckford will spend a large proportion of the year outside and are free to roam, with all animals higher welfare compared to the industry standard.
By expanding this facility in place of the existing dairy unit – which represented just 3% of Waitrose’s total milk production – additional crop land would also be created to help produce more flour and oil for Waitrose, which would then be sold to its customers, it said.