Industry calls for further communication with Red Tractor on GFC

Industry calls for further communication with Red Tractor on GFC

Industry bodies respond to the Red Tractor’s Greener Farm Commitment (GFC) module, which is to be introduced from April 2024.

The Greener Farm Commitment is intended to help farmers track sustainability goals and allegedly reduce costs.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has said it is ready to support discussions over the future development of farm assurance to ensure there is confidence in the way standards are being set and that they deliver value to all.

AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “Effective farm assurance is of vital importance to levy payers. The UK operates in an increasingly competitive international food environment, and we must be prepared to prove the high standards of quality, safety, production and provenance of our food to defend and promote the reputation of our industry. We must also respond to the changing needs of our customers and consumers.

“However, the reaction to Red Tractor’s Greener Farm Commitment module proposal, whatever its merits, and ongoing discussions in the cereals and oilseeds sector and amongst beef and lamb producers is evidence that many farmers are beginning to consider that assurance is becoming an imposition without a reward and that there is a lack of buy-in to the case for, and potential benefits of, effective farm assurance. 

“AHDB will contribute with independent evidence that helps provide a view on the value of assurance in supporting British farmers. We are already working on an independent international comparison study of competitor beef and lamb standards and today we have announced a similar study within the cereal and oilseeds sector.”

AIMS weighs in

In response to AHDB’s statement regarding the GFC, Norman Bagley, head of Policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said: “I have had long held views as to the value of Third Party Assurance.

“What is required is a strong competent authority based audit which is now being delivered in the on-farm Defra-funded animal health and welfare pathway audits carried out by vets.

“Add to that the modernised livestock movement data now operating in sheep and which will be extended to other species in the near future.

“These are two significant steps forward, led by Defra, and will provide a new baseline assurance framework. Any further “bolt-on” modules will be commercial decisions.

“This, at long last, should remove the necessity for multiple on-farm and processing plant audits thus creating a one-stop shop for the industry and reducing cost burdens.”

NSA calls for review of the scheme and its governance

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has also expressed concern regarding the GFC, as it said that “none of the detail of the Commitment has been discussed with those directly impacted”, and is now calling for a root and branch review of the assurance scheme and its governance.

It believes the GFC takes Red Tractor into the realm of setting environmental policy in isolation rather than getting behind the key environmental and sustainable farming schemes being introduced by Defra.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA continues to support the concept of farm assurance as an open gate declaration of good practice. But we have long been frustrated that the scheme is losing its way and has become less relevant to sheep farmers with little acceptance of the unique nature of our sector.

“Most of the nation’s sheep farms are not big businesses with layers of management, but are family farms and single operators, many with little land of their own, and our sector still offers a valuable first step on the farming ladder for young new entrants. Becoming Red Tractor Assured presents a huge hurdle for many sheep farms, and for most of the sector’s routes to market it adds no value.”

Stocker continued: “Anyone who has had any contact with NSA will recognise that we are pro-environment, but the recent announcement of the Greener Farm Commitment, developed with no practical input from ourselves or the farming sector, is flawed and simply a step too far.

“We do not accept this will remain a voluntary scheme and additionality like this comes with a cost that needs to be supported via market premiums or by full alignment with Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship schemes.

“We are frustrated by the fact there has been no consideration for the hundreds of sheep farmers who operate as graziers on other people’s land and have no influence on wider land management decisions, or direct access to SFI and similar schemes, yet do a great job within the boundaries of their authority. 

“We are not prepared to put at risk the social and cultural makeup of our industry in this drive for more industrialisation, supposed professionalisation, and red tape.”

Mr Stocker concluded: “This latest proposal has resulted in NSA calling for a review of the governance and direction of Red Tractor. NSA is fully prepared to continue to work with the scheme in a constructive way, on the beef and lamb Board and the Technical Advisory Committee, but that doesn’t stop us from calling the governance of the organisation into question. 

“Furthermore, NSA is not prepared to be part of any Development Advisory Panel for the Greener Farms Commitment on the basis that the whole concept needs to go back to the drawing board with full debate and discussion with the farming community.”

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