Devon poultry farmer joins new M&S farm of the future initiative to help drive net zero goal

News Desk
Authored by News Desk
Posted Wednesday, February 21, 2024 - 7:02pm

Tiverton-based poultry farmer, Stuart Cole, who supplies Oakham Gold chicken to M&S through the 2 Sisters Food Group, is one of seven farmers taking part in the new, seven-year Farm of the Future programme. The initiative will see M&S collaborate with suppliers, and farmers to deliver rapid decarbonisation of livestock production as part of its ongoing Plan A roadmap to be net zero by 2040.

The innovative, family farming enterprise consists of multiple sites near Tiverton in Devon across 350 acres and includes two multi-purpose broiler units which have been producing Oakham Gold chicken for M&S for more than a year. He hopes the M&S programme will enable him to delve deeper into how he can improve their farming systems to deliver benefits for the environment, address consumer welfare and environmental concerns but also improve financial returns for producers.

As a M&S Select Farmer, Cole is proud of the welfare standards he has in place for poultry, suppling the high-street retailer with 100% RSPCA assured Oakham Gold Chicken. His slower-reared, more natural rearing approach means the birds have a much better quality of life, can be much more active, and can express their natural behaviours better, which ultimately produces a better-tasting, better-quality, fresh chicken for M&S customers. 

He is one of seven farming enterprises taking part in the Farm of the Future programme. Working with Harper Adams University’s School of Sustainable Food and Farming, Farm of the Future will seek ways to rapidly decarbonise and maximise wildlife and habitat creation and will also provide the opportunity to identify where system change may be required, all within the context of continuing to produce the high-quality food that M&S is renowned for. 

Cole is no stranger to collaborative, research-based projects, and is currently working with the University of Chester to measure the environmental impact of broiler farming through Life Cycle (carbon) Analysis and is working with a tech start-up company that uses camera systems driven by AI to monitor their birds.

 Stuart Cole, of Menchine Farm, said “We feel that we have made a start on making our production system more sustainable, but we now need to assess the effect of what we have done to date to enable us to plan for the future. We think that our involvement in the M&S programme will enable us to delve deeper into how we can improve our farming systems to deliver benefits for the environment, address consumer welfare and environmental concerns but also improve financial returns for producers. A long-term collaboration with M&S through this project will give us the opportunity and time to assess, develop and improve the way we farm.”

 Commenting on the launch of the programme, Head of Agriculture & Fisheries at M&S Food, Steve McLean, said: “As part of our sustainability action plan ‘Plan A’, we have committed to reducing our carbon footprint to net zero by 2040. Over 70% of the emissions of our food business come from primary agriculture, particularly the livestock and ruminant sectors, so it is clear this needs real focus.

“We recognise the challenges this brings on farm, and the need to continue to produce affordable, high-quality food from sustainable supply chain relationships. We are committed to helping our M&S Select Farmers navigate these challenges, and this new initiative will enable us to support innovative approaches on seven of our M&S Select Farms, with the findings being shared across our whole supply base and the wider industry to help drive real change. 

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