Controversial Red Tractor module axed 

Red Tractor’s chair has acknowledged that errors were made in the development of the Greener Farms Commitment.

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Five months after a backlash from the farming industry, Red Tractor has announced today (22nd March) that it will axe its Greener Farms Commitment module. 

The module prompted a specific review of Red Tractor and a broader review of farm assurance schemes as a whole. 

Red Tractor says the module – which was due to launch in April – was designed to help farmers, processors and retailers meet a growing need to demonstrate sustainability. 

However, farmers raised serious concerns that the voluntary module would become compulsory – forcing them to make expensive changes to their practices, for no financial gain. And with the government’s focus on ‘public money for public goods’, the scheme ran the risk of forcing farmers to give away environmental goods that could be funded by government schemes. 

Red Tractor was also criticised for working closely with retailers on the module, but failing to consult farmers. 

Errors made  

Christine Tacon, chair of Red Tractor said that while the module had been conceived with the best of intentions, errors had been made. 

“We take responsibility for those issues and are sorry. We hope that by dropping the module, we can close the door on this chapter and move forward. 

“We will only be involved in future environmental standards when all constituencies across the UK food and farming chain, by sector, ask us to and with full consultation.” 

Red Tractor review recommendations  

Following the backlash over the module, the consultancy Campbell Tickell carried out a review of the farm assurance scheme’s governance.  

The review concluded that Red Tractor’s ‘governance is sound’ and no procedural breach was found. However, the report made a series of recommendations – highlighting complexities in governance, communication issues and contrasting perceptions of the organisation. 

Red Tractor’s AFS Board confirmed its commitment to implement all of the recommendations.  

“Whilst the review found that ‘Red Tractor governance is sound’, it also sent a clear message about the frustration farmers are feeling,” Christine continued. “We will act now to improve our communications to farmers, including the transparency of our operations, purpose and benefits and we will strengthen our stakeholder engagement.” 

“We will listen more closely to our farmers, for example, Red Tractor has previously found that transparency, audit burden and value are farmers’ top concerns with Red Tractor. Significant efforts are already underway to tackle these, which you will hear more about in the next few months.” 

Response from farming unions

The UK farming unions – NFU, NFU Cymru, NFUS and UFU – together with the AHDB, welcomed Red Tractor’s decision to axe the Greener Farms Commitment.

“It’s also pleasing to see a commitment from Red Tractor that it will only consider future environmental standards with sector consensus and full consultation. This is essential in rebuilding trust with farmers from across Britain, something we are pleased that Red Tractor has said is a priority and is already acting upon.

“We welcome Red Tractor’s desire for a more transparent, open and effective relationship with farmers in future.”

Review of farm assurance launches 

Meanwhile this week saw the official launch of an independent review of farm assurance. It’s being jointly commissioned by the NFU and AHDB – along with NFU Cymru, The Ulster Farmers Union and NFU Scotland, who will all form part of the Assurance Review steering group. 

The review is focused on repurposing assurance in a post-Brexit world. It aims to seek feedback from all farmers, crofters and growers about all farm assurance schemes with a view to revolutionising farm to fork assurance, making it fit for the future. 

It is now in the process of appointing its fourth and final commissioner. Three commissioners have already been appointed: lead commissioner Dr David Llewellyn CBE; James Withers, former CEO of Scotland Food and Drink; and Mark Suthern – chairman of trustees of the Farming Community Network (FCN). 

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