Fuelled by the farm! Waitrose is the first retailer to power its tractors by cow manure

By Jill Dando News

Waitrose is the first UK retailer to use renewable natural gas to power tractors at its farm in an industry leading move.

It is a significant step towards reaching net zero across their own operations by 2035.

They announced in 2021 that we will use they farm, at the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, to facilitate radical change by experimenting with a variety of environment-friendly agricultural techniques. 

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 significantly reduces the carbon footprint. 

A pioneering facility has been built to provide sustainable fuel which will help cut down 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.

The process is truly 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.”

Michael Simpson, Bennamann Chief Executive Officer said: “This partnership and investment into cutting-edge farming practises like our bespoke biomethane facility, has enabled the development of our next generation retrofit methane capture ecosystem.

“JLP’s support has been instrumental in the development of our new retrofit slurry cover and methane capture technology, making it even more affordable to the small to medium sized dairy farmers, who can generate additional revenue or cost savings through the sale of excess biomethane or making their own 100% natural fertiliser as a byproduct.

“The fuel can also be converted into electricity for powering their farms, charging electric vehicles and or powering dairy equipment. This partnership demonstrates bold leadership by one of the UK’s most iconic retailers of how we can get to net zero, showcasing agriculture as the solution and not the problem.”

Dr Chris Mann, Co-founder of Bennamann added: “From day one, the team at JLP truly grasped Bennamann’s vision for the energy independent farm fuelled by captured fugitive methane. We are extremely proud to be part of this pioneering activity with JLP.”

Alistair Walshaw, New Holland UK Alternative Propulsions Manager, said: “We are really proud of this collaboration with Waitrose, such an important partner in our mission to deliver sustainable, clean solutions in agriculture. New Holland has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and our Clean Energy Leader strategy started back in 2006.

“Today, we are happy to see that more and more partners are supporting this important cause, providing a way to maximise productivity while reducing the farms’ carbon footprint. The collaboration with Waitrose is a strong statement that we hope others will follow, and will raise more and more awareness on the importance of sustainability in farming.”

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.”

Sharing learning with farmers

Our investment into cutting-edge farming practices such as our biomethane facility means we can pass on our knowledge and learnings to the farming community. The creation of biomethane gas could generate additional revenue or cost savings for farmers, for example through the sale of excess biomethane or making their own 100% natural fertiliser as a byproduct. The fuel can also be converted into electricity, which could be used for charging electric vehicles and equipment.  

To achieve our ambitions for a more sustainable farming system, we need to invest in innovation and be bold in testing and developing solutions. We welcome Government grants, such as the Slurry Infrastructure Grant, as the scale of change required to achieve the country’s net zero targets, will rely on a combination of private and public finance. This biomethane facility has been designed to meet the requirements of the Slurry Infrastructure Grant which may help livestock farmers interested in adopting the technology on their farms.

Today’s announcement builds on the Partnership’s Plan for Nature, published last autumn, which commits to a range of initiatives to significantly reduce the impact of our two businesses’ commercial activity on the natural world. The Partnership was recently the first UK retailer to have net zero science-based targets focused on greenhouse gas emissions originating from ‘forests, land and agriculture’ validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).