NPA urges producers to prepare for Red Tractor audits

The NPA has stressed the need for producers to prepare fully for Red Tractor audits as non-conformances can have serious consequences for scheme members.

Under the new risk-based inspection regime, all standards have been weighted according to risk, so each member’s risk rating can be categorised, following inspections. Where members fall into the ‘high risk’ category, farms will be subject to unannounced checks at their own expense.

Failure to improve on your risk rating in further inspections can lead to suspension and ultimately being thrown out of the scheme.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies outlined the implications of the new regime at the association’s first Spring Regional meeting at Newbury, last week.

She pointed out that standard weightings are not published, which means the assessor won’t know how they are weighted. Red Tractor has told assessors not to comment on the audit outcome as a result.

“All non-conformances matter, whether major or minor, and what is needed is a change of approach by producers to the audit in order to save them unnecessary stress and cost,” Zoe said.

She  issued some advice to help scheme members avoid the potential pitfalls of the new regime.

  • Don’t use the audit to flag up any issues – go through the unit with a fine toothed comb before the announced audit and ensure that everything has been sorted beforehand. Then, even if something goes wrong on the day, you are much less likely to be rated high risk because you will only get a small number of NCs, not a long list.
  • It doesn’t matter if you rectify on the day or within the 28 days – ALL NCs will go into the algorithm and be taken into account to work out your risk.
  • You will not be told what your risk rating is – just whether you will be subject to an unannounced audit.
  • Unannounced inspections will have to be paid for up front and will focus on a reduced number of standards, including the areas where you are considered weak.
  • Watch out for issues that could trigger NCs on several standards. Examples include: up to date signed QVR forms on farm; farm map showing biosecure areas; medicine records/process for identifying treated pigs & withdrawal periods; up to date records of who is signed off as competent to do tail docking/teeth clipping/injections.
  • If you are non-compliant with even just one part of a standard, a non-conformance will be recorded against the whole standard and be fed into the algorithm as such. So ensure you are meeting all the requirements outlined in the ‘How You Will be Measured’ column of the Standards.

The NPA Producer Group outlined its concerns over some aspects of the new regime at its latest meeting in March.

And in a Q&A article in the latest issue of Pig World, Red Tractor has addressed some of those concerns.

“Red Tractor has listened to some of our concerns and is now looking at whether there is bias in the system against large farms and at introducing more tolerance into the system,” Zoe said.

“They are also looking at all ‘high risk’ rated units to see if the risk rating is warranted.”

Contingency planning

The meeting heard from another farmer who questioned the new Red Tractor requirement for having a contingency plan to manage what would happen should they be thrown out of the scheme.

The producer told the meeting this was impossible to do this as it would be very difficult to find an outlet for non-assured pigs under these circumstances, particularly for larger commercial herds. “The market just isn’t there,” he said.

Zoe added: “This is a really valid point that was raised – what does a large unit producing finishing pigs do if it is kicked out of the scheme? Some farms would have some really difficult decisions to make, including whether to stay in pig production and what to do with pigs that they could not sell.

“While RT recognise the significant impact of a farm being withdrawn from the scheme, they have said this is the farmers’ responsibility but we need to look at the implications. We believe the focus should be on RT working with the farmer to keep them in the scheme, rather than allowing people to get into this situation in the first place. Those that are unable to do that should be helped to develop an exit strategy.”

NPA will be assessing potential alternative options in order to support members that may find themselves in this situation.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.