2021 seems to be the year of the consultation. By the time you read this, the urea consultation will have closed, and no doubt growers will have had communication from Red Tractor regarding the opening of its V5 standards consultation.
On top of this the Farming Rules for Water, the National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and the gene editing consultations have all started.
Although representative bodies such as the NFU will be making formal responses, it is imperative that growers engage in these consultations at every given opportunity as they will help to set the frameworks in which our businesses will work over the coming years.
Currently, NFU regional crops boards have been having open member meetings with Red Tractor representatives to go through the proposed changes and implementation of new standards – these meetings have been well attended as members seek to discuss and understand the impacts of the proposals on their businesses.
It is important to realise what the current value of Red Tractor is for the combinable crops sector, food safety and hygiene standards. This should be at the forefront of growers’ minds and Red Tractor has undoubtedly improved our attitudes to this over the years. But many growers will quite rightly question the equivalence of imported grains and feedstocks into the UK when it comes to production standards, an issue that needs to be addressed as UK standards evolve.
End users and processors quite rightly look to Red Tractor as the kite mark to satisfy their consumer demands and corporate social responsibility requirements; as growers we should not ignore or underestimate the value that lies within this, but it is important to ask if this value can be maintained as standards evolve in relation to imports.
Some growers like myself are fortunate enough to be involved in good supply chain contracts with individual end users and therefore will undoubtedly find it easier to see value and accept increasing standards as the demands of the supply chain increase. But many growers do not have these advantages and simply trade on price only, at whatever price the world market allows. For most growers, Red Tractor could be seen purely as a license to trade and nothing else.
The combinable crops sector and its produce is also far removed from the consumer and supermarket shelves. Compared to other sectors, very few brands and products that use our produce carry the Red Tractor logo, so growers often feel a disconnect and fail to see value. Again, some supply chain contracts show the point of difference but only for a few, so as standards evolve and change so must the visibility of growers’ professionalism and efforts.
Earned recognition has been a key area where Red Tractor can give growers value. Fewer on-farm inspections will always be considered a good thing by most growers and being part of an assurance scheme such as Red Tractor has allowed growers to see the value of reduced inspections. But as our businesses change over the coming years, will just one audit be enough to satisfy regulatory requirements?
Will growers have confidence in a one-size-fits-all audit, or will more dedicated auditing be needed to address issues such as health and safety, the environment and other sector specific issues?
This all comes at a time when the combinable crops sector is about to undergo considerable change, not least by the potential drop in income of up to 65% over the next four years, and many growers will be making plans to adjust and reduce costs while looking to add value in real terms.
Engagement in this consultation is vital to help ensure we can achieve this, so please respond to the Red Tractor survey and the standards consultation and have your say on the future of our sector.