LEAF’s Supermarket Sweep

LEAF’s Supermarket Sweep By Andrew Blake

 FARMERS SHOULD not be criticised for fulfilling the wishes of successive post-War governments and eventually the Common Agricultural Policy, says a leading Hants farmer.

However, reforming the CAP took far too long, producers must adapt to society’s new demands and LEAF can help them do that.

“I believe every farmer has something to learn from LEAF,” agreed the Earl of Selborne as he launched Leckford Estate as the latest LEAF demo farm last week.

Defining industry sustainability is not easy, Lord Selborne admitted. “However I have to say that agriculture probably comes into the could do better’ category.

“We have to learn from our mistakes of the past 20-30 years, but it should always be recognised that profitable farming is the only way by which we can enhance the environment.”

The Waitrose-owned and managed 1620ha (4000 acre) Leckford unit, based in the River Test valley near Stockbridge, combines new and traditional farming with long-standing care for the environment, explained managing director Malcolm Crabtree.

It has 15 enterprises on its mainly chalky soils, including arable, dairy, top fruit, chickens and mushrooms. LEAF’s integrated farm management approach reflects the environmental philosophy of John Spedan Lewis, who bought the estate in 1928, he said. Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership.

 “As the fourth director my contract says that I have to farm with the environment in mind. Being with Waitrose is good, because it gives me a much better understanding of our role as part of the food chain.”

Typical of Leckford’s integrated methods are use of parasitic mites to control red spider mite in the orchards and garlic oil against mushroom fly, general manager Iain Dalton commented.

“We haven’t had to spray for mite for seven to eight years,” noted fruit farm manager Tom Palmer.

Apart from the Co-op, Waitrose is the only supermarket with its own farm, which puts nearly 1000t/year of apples, mainly Cox’s, and 20t/week of mushrooms on its shelves along with milk, beef and free-range chickens and eggs.

 “If we can open up and show what we are doing it helps build customer relationships,” said buyer Ian Durrant.