WAITROSE has become the first UK retailer to use renewable natural gas to power tractors at one of its farms in Test Valley.

Leckford Estate, based near Stockbridge, is owned by Waitrose and Partners and has been experimenting since 2021 with a variety of environmentally friendly agricultural techniques. The estate spans more than 2,500 acres.

Executive director of Waitrose James Bailey 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."

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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 facility on the estate has been built to provide sustainable fuel which will help the farm cut down to 1,300 tonnes of carbon per year.

The covered lagoon, which is the size of two and a half Olympic swimming pools, holds 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.

Andover Advertiser: 500 cattle are kept at the farm500 cattle are kept at the farm (Image: Mark Paine)

The fluid which enters the lagoon emits gases, including methane. As the decomposition process happens, the gases are trapped within the covered lagoon, before being cleaned and upgraded through a gas filtration system.

This produces biomethane gas, which can be used to power compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors. The facility on Leckford Estate is the largest of its type in the UK.

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

Head of Leckford Estate Andrew Hoad 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.

“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."

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Bennamann chief executive officer Michael Simpson 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.

"John Lewis and Partners 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 per cent natural fertiliser as a byproduct.

"The fuel can also be converted into electricity for powering their farms, charging electric vehicles and powering dairy equipment."

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 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.”