Red Tractor sets out next steps for Greener Farms Commitment
Red Tractor’s main board has confirmed it will make its Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) available from 1st April 2024.
Red Tractor has been working on its GFC environment module since 2020, recognising that the pressure on Retail, Out Of Home (OOH) operators and brands to source their primary produce more sustainably could lead to a multitude of audit demands on the supply chain and particularly farmers.
Concerned about these increasing audit demands, Red Tractor has been developing an additional, voluntary module designed to meet the needs of the market with a “single consistent industry approach”. This offers farmers, processors and packers one set of common criteria. The outcome is the GFC, which has the support of businesses represented by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Andrew Opie from the BRC said: “Retailers are under increasing pressure to disclose how their sourcing policies promote positive management of soil, water and biodiversity both to consumers and investors. The new Red Tractor GFC optional module offers the opportunity for farmers to deliver that assurance in a consistent, efficient scheme.
“Farmers in other countries are already embarking on similar schemes, but we feel the Red Tractor scheme puts British farmers in the strongest position to demonstrate their credentials alongside quality and provenance to British consumers.”
Throughout the development work, Red Tractor said it has been determined to secure this level of support. This has involved interviewing every major retailer, OOH operator and many leading brands; ensuring alignment with Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI); meeting the aims of critical organisations such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP); whilst also conducting cost versus benefit research through the Andersons Centre; and trials with 25 farms.
Environmentally focused farming
Red Tractor’s GFC is a voluntary addition which will operate differently from its typical core standards. It enables farmers to make commitments and track their own progress across five key areas for environmentally focused farming:
- Carbon foot printing
- Soil management
- Nutrient management
- Waste management
It will recognise other schemes or programmes such as the SFI and other devolved Government schemes, reducing the cost and complexity, and making it as easy as possible for farmers to complete.
The GFC will have its own logo, enabling farmers and British agriculture to demonstrate their environmental credentials to consumers, whilst also differentiating the high quality of British products compared to international competition.
A common industry approach
From 1st April 2024, the scheme will be open to the supply chain across all sectors where members are already certified against Red Tractor’s core standards. However, the GFC is designed to be a very different experience for farmers who choose to take part. The GFC will be administered by Red Tractor directly, rather than by appointed Certification Bodies.
Unlike core standards, the GFC does not require the same thing at every farm, but instead requires farmers to register a plan for progress that is unique to their circumstances, and then measure their success and learning against that.
Red Tractor will set up a Development Advisory Panel (DAP) to oversee the detail, operation and evolution of the GFC. Their first task will be to give feedback on the technical content of the module before it is finalised and published. This will help to ensure its practical application by sector.
The DAP will include representation from across the supply chain including experts from Red Tractor’s Sector Boards and Technical Advisory Committees, plus third-party expertise where required.
Red Tractor CEO, Jim Moseley said: “We’re providing the supply chain with a definitive timetable for making the Greener Farms Commitment available on 1st April next year. With support from so many major retailers, the sector has a unique opportunity to make this common industry approach work.
“The initiative takes a new approach which will offer benefits to everyone. It gives Red Tractor farmers a new way of differentiating their product and a consistent framework to talk about their environmental credentials. The GFC is designed to protect farmers from future audit demands, costs and complexity.
“While some farmers may not be facing these questions from their customers yet, there is clear evidence from some agricultural sectors that alternative schemes have added cost, duplication and complexity for Red Tractor farmers.
“For processors and packers, the common industry approach should reduce the need for a multitude of product lines to be segregated, which could be substantial if customers start to develop their own bespoke programmes. For retailers, out of home operators and brands, the GFC provides the evidence they need to show that their sourcing strategies are from farmers committed to looking after the environment.”
Supermarkets respond to the GFC
Gavin Hodgson, director of Agriculture at Sainsbury’s said: “Sainsbury’s is very supportive of initiatives to drive forward work in the sustainability space and sees Red Tractor Greener Farms Commitment as a positive step to giving farmers a framework to develop and make real progress.
“Having widely available, streamlined approach for the industry is important to simplify asks for farmers and ensure the industry as a whole is working towards these important common goals.”
Claire Lorains, Group Quality, Technical and Sustainability director at Tesco said: “To deliver on our climate and nature commitments it’s vital we partner with suppliers and farmers to effectively measure and improve the impact food production has on soil, water and biodiversity.
“We believe the Red Tractor Greener Farms Commitment can help us deliver on these commitments by setting a strong baseline environmental standard that supports the right frameworks to measure and manage.”
Sophie Throup, Technical and Sustainability director, Morrisons said: “The Greener Farms Commitment is an important step in helping us as a retailer evidence the steps farmers are already taking to look after the environment.
“This modular option gives us a way of being able to talk to customers about the steps farmers are taking, whether this is starting their journey with a carbon footprint, to delivering improvements to soil health and structure, and considering biodiversity and waste.”
NFU comments on the Commitment
In response to the GFC, the deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Tom Bradshaw, said: “The NFU has long supported Red Tractor Assurance as vital to allow our members to compete in the marketplaces in which they operate. Nonetheless, for the past 18 months we have been robustly challenging the Governance behind the development of this environment module.
“I was alarmed that it had been previously decided by the Red Tractor board that in developing this module all of the technical committees and sector boards where NFU members sit would be bypassed. I have found this position completely unacceptable and said so repeatedly. We have never said that as one of the 18 members of the Red Tractor board we didn’t have knowledge of the module, but at no point have expert NFU members and advisors been involved with the development of the crucial details within it.
“Consequently, at the final Red Tractor board meeting where this was agreed in September, I again argued for greater oversight, and significant concessions were gained by the NFU to allow the module to be scrutinised by the technical advisory committees of all farming sectors and the sector boards.
“We also fought for and gained agreement to set up a Development Advisory Panel to further scrutinise development of the greener farms work. At the same time, we highlighted significant concerns about how this could work in the devolved nations with their differing agricultural policies. They have not been involved at all. With these concessions won we felt that the board could approve the position, sending it out for this wider scrutiny.
“The surprising British Retail Consortium (BRC) statement on the Greener Farms Commitment has made many question the validity of the process agreed above.
“As it stands, there has been no clear vision delivered as to how this is going to add any value to farm gate and yet it will help retailers deliver more of their ESG requirements, which ultimately brings value.
“I, more than anyone, want British farming to stand up to the challenges of imports from around the world; to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of British farming and to drive solutions to the environmental challenges we face.
“This module could provide some of the solutions if deployed in the correct sectors and with minimal cost burden, and after the proper scrutiny that was agreed. Ultimately however, the additional cost cannot be shouldered by our farmer members and the supply chain will have to pay a premium for the associated increase in costs.”