The NFU’s council, made up of farming representatives from across England and Wales, has expressed concerns about the delivery of Red Tractor’s new Greener Farms Commitment.
The announcement of the voluntary bolt-on module, due to come in next April, has proved hugely controversial among farmers, who have raised a number of issues, including the extent to which farmers and their representative bodies have been consulted, and who will pay for the extra requirements that need to be delivered. Supermarket representatives have warmly welcomed the move that will enable to demonstrate to consumers a commitment to green farming within their supply chains.
During its latest meeting on Tuesday, the NFU council reiterated its commitment to the principles of farm assurance, recognising the value assurance schemes play for its farmer and grower members and their vital role in giving access to key markets. It also recognised the major role Red Tractor has played in achieving that since its formation in 2000, now appearing on over £15 billion of produce.
However, the council expressed, through a resolution, its concerns about the delivery of Red Tractor’s new bolt-on environmental module, the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC).
“Whilst recognising and embracing the increasing role of sustainability in farm assurance, Council members felt that more granular, technical and practical elements of the GFC should have been consulted on more widely before the module was unveiled,” the resolution said.
NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw, who as a member of the Red Tractor board involved in the discussions, recently clarified his own position, said: “Red Tractor has been a positive thing for our members and, indeed, is an organisation we helped establish for that very reason.
“We continue to believe that should be the case and the important thing now is for us to work to address the concerns Council has identified and go forward, together, to face the challenges the sector faces in the years ahead.
“We all accept that the roll-out of the GFC hasn’t been as any of us would have wished, but the issue is about procedures, not principles. We can and should work together to address those issues, get past this and move on for the benefit of farmers, growers, the wider supply chain and, crucially, consumers.”
Separately, 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, following the reaction to the Greener Farm Commitment module.
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.”