A DEVON poultry farmer is taking part in a Farm of the Future programme, run by Marks and Spencer (M&S). 

Stuart Cole, who supplies Oakham Gold chicken to M&S through the 2 Sisters Food Group, is taking part in the intiative, which will see M&S work with suppliers and farmers to deliver rapid decarbonisation of livestock production. 

The initative is part of the company's plan to be net zero by 2024. 

Head of agriculture and 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."

Stuart farms across multiple sites near Tiverton. The family farming enterterprise is 350 acres and includes two broiler units, which have been producing Oakham Gold chicken for M&S for more than a year.

He is hoping the programme will help improve their farming systems to deliver benefits for the environment and address consumer welfare, but also improve financial returns for producers. 

Stuart, of Menchine Farm, added: 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.”

Stuart is one of seven farms taking part in the Farm of the Future programme. Working with Harper Adams University's School of Sustainable Food and Farming, the programme is looking for ways to decarbonise and maximise wildlife and habitat creation. 

Stuart is also 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.