8th June 2023
In this series about the region’s food producers and farmers, Colin McIntyre of the Waitrose & Partners farm talks to Jonathan Thompson from the Romsey office of the law firm Thrings
John Spedan Lewis bought the Leckford Estate with a vision of farming the land in harmony with nature. Nearly a century on, Colin McIntyre and his expert team keep that ethos alive.
The estate’s 2,800 acres of beautiful farmland and gardens at Stockbridge produce beef, fruit, vegetables, and crops to supply Waitrose’s 320 stores – all with a focus on sustainability.
“By owning its own farm, Waitrose is able to tell the story of food, from field to fork, which is really important to us,” says Colin, the estate’s General Manager.
“Supermarkets are quite often seen as the bad guys, but everything we’re doing here is about biodiversity and enhancing the landscape – simply because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
The inner workings of the farm are only seen by the public on one open day a year – this year it’s on June 11th – but Colin says the on-site farm shop and cafe, landscape gardening service and plant nursery perfectly represent its philosophy. Beautifully maintained water gardens, fed by the River Test, complete the picture.
The estate’s goal is to set the benchmark for sustainable farming and share that knowledge with others. The estate has several partnerships with schools, colleges and universities, and plans to turn a former dairy into a learning centre for farmers.
“I’ve never met a farmer who doesn’t want to be more environmentally friendly, but lots of them can be up at 5am until last light at 10pm, then they’re doing the books and they’re off to bed for a few hours. They don’t have that much time to experiment.
“Here, we bring them together with experts to look at how we can experiment here with soil and different ways of farming on a larger scale. We can fail fast and move on if we need to, so we can prove ways to be more environmentally friendly but commercially viable.”
The estate team is always looking for new and creative ways to farm sustainably. A recent project converts cow manure into biomethane fuel which can be used to power the farm’s tractors.
“It’s not about maximising profit as the be all and end all, but about being successful enough to demonstrate that retail, leisure and agriculture can be done in a way that enhances the environment,” Colin adds.
“That’s what drives me, what gets me out of bed each morning – we’re making a difference.”