Waitrose farm ditches machinery for sheep in bid to make salad and asparagus more environmentally friendly

Helena Horton
·2-min read
The sheep will be used to graze off cover crops  - Mark Mackenzie
The sheep will be used to graze off cover crops - Mark Mackenzie

A Waitrose farm has ditched machinery in favour of sheep in a bid to make crops including salad and asparagus more environmentally friendly.

The grazers are being used in a trial on farmland in Ely, Cambridgeshire, that the landowners claim will lower on site costs, retain carbon levels in the soil and reduce the need for artificial fertilisers.

The farm, owned by vegetable company G's, will use the lambs to graze off cover crops in fields that will be rotated annually to help with weed control as well as soil and crop regeneration. 

They also believe the lambs will reduce the need for artificial fertilisers, which are bad for the environment, as they will produce manure. 

Sources at Waitrose said if successful, the trial will be rolled out widely across their supply chain, with livestock replacing machinery,

George Leicester Thackara, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Waitrose & Partners said:  "This trial is inspired by traditional mixed farming techniques and will deliver benefits to the health of our soil and surrounding wildlife as well as retaining carbon to help tackle climate change.” 

“We plant a cover crop that is both beneficial for the soil and for the health of the lambs, the cover crop helping to prevent soil erosion, oxidisation and simultaneously feeding the microbiology and worms under the soil. 

“As the land is grazed, the lambs will return organic matter and nutrients to the soil in the form of manure - using their hooves to tread it back into the soil.

“Having lambs back on the farm has helped us to continue to reduce soil compaction and inputs, improve soil health, store carbon and reduce our Carbon footprint. It’s a win win.”

Other large suppliers in Britain are attempting to lower their carbon footprint by using livestock and changing their fertilisers and feeds.

Pilgrim's, which produces 25 per cent of Britain's pork, has been trying to grow its own soya to feed the pigs, in order to reduce deforestation and the carbon footprint of its products.

Their head of Agriculture Andrew Saunders said: "We looked at different ways we can improve our footprint by reducing soya, and using plants grown in the UK. We have reduced our soya by half and are trying to grow some soya in the UK. We have also asked farmers to specifically grow beans for us."

Like G's, they are also substituting manure from livestock to replace traditional fertlisers.

Mr Saunders explained: "The pigs here are putting back onto the land. We have seen quite significant improvements in organic matter content which is holding water in the soil, the volumes of fertiliser used are much lower because the pig waste is going back into the soil.

"By using less of these products we are using less products, less water, less fertilisers, and packaging so we can make the end product cheaper."