A new website, where food growers and researchers can exchange information, ideas and best agricultural practice, has been launched by retailing giant Waitrose, helped by a Lancaster expert in the issues which underpin food security.

A new website, where food growers and researchers can exchange information, ideas and best agricultural practice, has been launched by retailing giant Waitrose, helped by a Lancaster expert in the issues which underpin food security.

“Waitrose asked me to work with them and with their leading suppliers to develop a knowledge exchange portal which would put their suppliers of fresh produce in touch with researchers around the world doing the most relevant work on sustainable agriculture,” said Bill Davies, Professor of Environmental Plant Biology at Lancaster Environment Centre. “The site will also help raise the profile of food with the public in general.”

“We know that in many ways, our food supply chain is unsustainable and not necessarily fit for purpose” said Professor Bill Davies. “So we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with a major food provider to discuss issues like food production and supply, countryside stewardship and sustainability. There are 14,000 growers all over the world who supply fruit and veg to Waitrose. What we are saying to them, whether they farm in the UK, Senegal or Chile, is that the latest knowledge in areas of concern to consumers, retailers and producers will be on the website for them to use.”

Finding and promoting best practice

“Our aim is to take best practice, and put it up there,” said Alan Wilson, Technical Manager for Agronomy at Waitrose. “Bill’s role is to make sure that everything on the site is reliable and produced by the best people in the relevant disciplines.”

As well as overseeing the development and operation of the website, Professor Davies is organising one or two conferences a year bringing researchers and suppliers together. “We had one in February, which had a significant focus on bees, an area of real concern at the moment. We established a research fund, which is helping to fund some research on the impact that cocktails of different pesticides have on bees,” said Professor Davies, who has been working with Waitrose offering training to their staff and suppliers for nearly a decade.

Both growers and researchers benefit

Suppliers and researchers are working together to produce accessible information in a variety of formats. Professor Davies believes that while growers will learn about useful tools and techniques, researchers will also gain understanding from this approach.

“We want to avoid a situation where a researcher does a great piece of science and shows it to a grower who says: ‘that’s not an issue for us’. The more we can focus in on what the issues really are for the grower, the bigger opportunity we have to really make a difference.”

The website is not restricted and anyone can view the information posted.
“That’s a big step for us but it’s the right one,” Mr Wilson said. “We want everyone to engage with it, our customers, scientists, growers and the public generally.

“We’ve been working with Bill for nearly ten years and the things we have achieved through Lancaster University have been groundbreaking. Academics and supermarkets have not always been natural bedfellows. Bill has made it natural and we are now using this relationship to open up relationships with other universities as well.”