M&S supports NI farmers through Farming with Nature programme
M&S has reaffirmed its commitment to agriculture in Northern Ireland through a new five-year collaborative programme to help its Select Farmers become more resilient to the biggest environmental challenges they face.
The ‘Farming with Nature’ programme will provide farmers with industry-relevant, specialist support in the areas of climate change, biodiversity, soil health and water usage to help them to become more sustainable and deliver measurable improvements to their businesses.
As part of the project, M&S has established 17 Indicator and Innovation Farms across the UK, spanning fresh produce, dairy, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken and eggs. The farms will be supported by M&S-funded specialist industry partners from The Wildlife Trusts, the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and FERA. Learnings from these farms will be shared through knowledge transfer activity and farm events with other M&S Select Farmers and the wider industry.
“We know that farmers are facing significant challenges, with uncertainties around Brexit, climate change and changes to farm support,” says Steve McLean, Head of Agriculture and Fisheries at M&S. “Adapting to these pressures will require innovation in farming practices and we are determined to support our Select Farms as they find new ways to meet the environmental challenges we face. Our approach is about providing practical support as well as helping to play our part in closing the gap between customers and agriculture.”
The Farming with Nature Indicator Farms programme includes two livestock farmers from Northern Ireland:
Graeme and his wife Linda started their free-range egg business in 2010 and have 16,000 birds that supply M&S with high-welfare, fresh eggs through Skea Eggs. The egg enterprise in run alongside a beef-finishing unit on the farm, located in the village of Newmills, near Dungannon in Northern Ireland.
Graeme has already implemented several environmental initiatives on the farm, including solar PV generation and LED lighting, which has significantly reduced their energy usage, and has a well-established tree-planting programme.
But Graeme is still keen to do more and explains; “Being part of the Indicator Farm programme appealed to us as we want to see what more we can do to help the environment and improve our carbon footprint. We want to take a whole-farm approach to making these changes and see how far we can get.”
Maurice and William Kells
Father and son, Maurice and William Kells farm together in County Armagh rearing beef for M&S through Linden Foods. Cattle are fed on the grass in summer and early autumn, supplemented with concentrated feed. The family has planted a range of broadleaf native hedges over the past six years to provide wildlife habitat and shelter for cattle. An ancient site and plantation on the farm is full of wildlife and is species rich with native trees and plants.
“We have started to limit our hedge cutting to encourage biodiversity, avoiding unnecessary cutting and damage to habitats”, says William. “Our grazing fields are home to a wide range of grasses and watercourses are fenced off to provide wildlife corridors and protect water quality. We have buzzards nesting, bumble bees and honeybees with beehives situated in our orchards to facilitate pollination. We are immensely proud to be an M&S Select Farm producer. It is good to know our product to destined for a retailer we are very pleased to be associated with. We are really looking forward to taking part in this Indicator Farms programme and seeing how we can enhance our farm environment further.”