Waitrose to power its tractors with cow manure on Leckford Estate farm

WAITROSE will use renewable natural gas to power tractors at its Leckford Estate farm in an industry leading move. The retailer says that this is a significant step towards reaching net zero across its operations by 2035.

James Bailey, Executive Director of Waitrose, said, “Two years ago we challenged ourselves to use Leckford as an experiment in farming best practices, to pave the way for genuine solutions to help conserve our soil, air and water for the future generations, and our biomethane lagoon does just that. An innovative example to help our farm and hopefully other farms, reach net zero.”

Manure produced by the 500 cattle kept at the farm is harvested and upgraded on site, producing fugitive biomethane. This not only fuels machinery, but also reduces the carbon footprint.

A pioneering facility has been built to provide sustainable fuel which will help cut up to 1,300 tonnes of carbon per year.

The innovative covered lagoon – which is the size of two and a half Olympic swimming pools – holds the energy rich fluid separated from farmyard manure. The solid material is extracted as a digestate which is rich in nutrients and can be used as fertiliser for crops.

The fluid which enters the lagoon emits gases, including methane. As the decomposition process happens, these are trapped and cleaned and upgraded in the system to biomethane gas, in turn this is used to power compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors. It is the largest plant of its type in the UK.

Waitrose says that the process is circular, from grazing cows in the field to producing manure, which then captures the methane gas and refines it. This process leaves behind a natural fertiliser, which will be pumped directly back onto the fields. The monitoring system for the facility is also powered by solar panels on farm buildings.

The facility was designed and built by Cornwall based clean energy experts Bennamann in conjunction with New Holland tractors.

Andrew Hoad, Head of Leckford Estate, said, “This is a new era for Leckford Estate farm. We understand the positive impact farming can have on addressing the effects of climate change and nature loss. Reduction in use of fossil fuels and capturing fugitive methane are an important part of us becoming Carbon Net Zero as a farm, ahead of our 2035 Partnership goal.

“This sits as part of our wider move to regenerative farming and our ambition is to make Leckford a centre of excellence for regenerative farming practices where we can innovate, learn and share with others to help others adopt practices that help nature’s recovery and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“We are working as three British based businesses to deliver industry leading research and development into more sustainable ways of using farm animal waste and are excited about this technology and its potential to help farmers become more energy independent, pave the way to becoming carbon neutral and support net zero targets. Working with like minded organisations is key to achieving the shift we need to make and we see collaborations like this as incredibly important.”

The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Defra Minister of State, who was on site to officially open the new facility, said, “Waitrose’s new biomethane facility really showcases the power of British businesses coming together to unlock innovative ways of helping to reduce carbon emissions in farming and tackle climate change.

“It is pioneering projects such as this, alongside the government’s continued investment in the development of new technology, robotics and automation, that will drive positive change across the sector and lay the groundwork for a more productive and sustainable agricultural industry that delivers for farmers, the economy and the environment.”

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