The Tenant Farmers Association has called for the Grocery Code Adjudicator’s (GCA) powers to be extended to deal with ‘unfair and unsustainable practices within the supply chain’.
Delivering his annual report, TFA chairman Stephen Wyrill said the TFA had ‘long championed the need for an ombudsman with teeth’.
He said the work of the Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, in relation to Tesco had ’merely scratched the surface of the issues that need to be addressed’.
He said: “The role of the Adjudicator would be significantly enhanced if it had powers to carry out short notice, own initiative investigations into matters of compliance with the Groceries Code.
Where currently Mrs Tacon only has the power to investigate on the basis of complaints, the TFA believes it ‘should be able to knock on any retailer’s door and ask for access to its books on any product line’.
“In that way retailers would be under constant pressure to ensure compliance with the statutory code,” Mr Wyrill said.
“Secondly, the Adjudicator should have the ability to consider impacts all the way through the supply chain.
"Thirdly, whilst not setting price, the TFA does believe that the Adjudicator has a role in assisting with price transparency in the marketplace by publishing information about producer, processor and retailer margins."
In a wide-ranging speech at the association’s AGM, Mr Wyrill called for production controls to be built into the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.
He said: “The drive to open markets over past decades has meant that we have lost control of our production base causing us to be unable to do what other businesses do when prices fall - reduce supply.
“Now that the starting gun on the next round of CAP reform has been fired with the first discussions occurring on the financial framework from 2020, the TFA believes that a key element of discussions must be how to build in production controls to deal with the market imbalances that we have seen over past months.”
Mr Wyrill said work was also needed to look at achieving greater penetration of domestic products in our own domestic market.
He said: “Import substitution must be a key driver for our industry.
"If we could only achieve this in relation to cheese it would utilise an additional 1 billion litres of domestically produced milk each year and it seems to me that that is a prize worth having.”
He cited the example of the consumer response to the “Morrisons Milk for Farmers” initiative.
“What is remarkable, behind all of the rhetoric and debate, is the fact that a significant number of Morrisons customers have been willing to walk into a Morrisons store and look at two identical, 4 pint cartons of milk sitting side by side on a supermarket shelf and select the one which says that 23p of the product price would be passed to farmers.
He said this further highlighted the need for more money to be spent on promotion.
“As part of that push we have been challenging AHDB on how it spends its annual budget of £65 million largely made up of money taken from domestic producers,”
“It would appear that AHDB is slowly getting the message but there is a long way to go in getting to where we need to be.”
Mr Wyrill urged TFA members to vote to stay in the EU - unless there is a clear plan B for what a post EU Britain will look like.
He said he was struck by comment from EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan at the Oxford Farming Conference that ‘we should understand, before knocking down our current dwelling, what we are going to build in its place’.
He was critical of the role played by Defra and the Government’s Digital Service in the flawed drive to push BPS 2015 applications online, insisting the Rural Payments Agency should have been given the lead role.
But he said, following the last-minute switch to a paper-based system, RPA did a ‘pretty good job in ensuring that everyone who wanted to was able to submit an application on time’ and subsequently delivering payments, although he expressed concern for those still waiting for their money.
“Given where we were a year ago and the carnage that was predicted, we believe the RPA should be given credit for what it has been able to achieve,” he said.
He added: “With the backdrop of pressure on incomes, late BPS payments and difficulties with Stewardship, one would have hoped that we would have seen this feed into lower rents at review in 2015.
“Sadly this has proved not to be the case.
“Many landlords’ agents have been taking an aggressive stance to ward off calls from tenants for rent reductions so that in most cases rents have largely remained static although in some cases there have been increases but mainly for those farms where rents have not been reviewed for a number of years.
“As we head towards Lady Day rent reviews, the important thing is that tenants keep up the pressure."