Chief executive of Red Tractor Jim Moseley opens up to Farmers Guardian about new plans for the scheme.
What is next for Red Tractor?
Since its launch in 2000, Red Tractor has constantly been evolving both with its standards but also with the management of this scheme to ensure 100 per cent compliance.
If you look at the history there is a lot of examples where we have introduced ground-breaking initiatives for farm assurance schemes such as the training, shadowing and witnessing of the inspectors that we introduced as an assurance scheme some three years ago.
But since the beginning of this calendar year we have had a team that has been tasked with trying to achieve what I call 365-day compliance with every standard on every farm.
Which of course has got to be our enduring aim.
That team has representatives of the whole supply chain; so you will have farmers and growers, and all elements of the food chain right through to customers and consumers.
And the team has been looking at a variety of things in order to achieve that 365-day compliance.
Some of the things are whether we can use new technology, basically to get much more real-time data as to what is going on on the farm. We have also looked at intelligence sharing so getting data from other sources than just our inspections - as a way of rating the farm - and the other thing we have been looking at is what I would describe as a risk-based approach to the inspection regime.
Out of those three things, whilst we will continue to look at the technology and we are doing much more of the intelligence sharing already, we would hope that in the next couple of weeks or so we will be in a position to announce a new risk-based inspection regime which should be in place before the end of the year.
If you think ‘Why is it taking so long?’ it is because the way that any Red Tractor standard or any management of its scheme is done is a very consultative process.
So if we are going to change our inspection regime then we will consult the farmers and growers, we will consult with processors and consult with people right through the entire food chain.
Obviously we need to make sure we have have covered every detail and uncovered every stone before we change that regime.
But our aim is that we will have a risk-based approach in the inspection regime to be in place before the end of this calendar year.
The team looking at it will comprise of farmers and growers as well, but as we approach the announcement we will go broader to look at all those details.
Does this mean more unannounced inspections?
There is current interest in unannounced audits. It is absolutely true that an unannounced audit is probably going to pick up perhaps more non-conformance or poor practice than a pre-arranged inspection.
But it should be borne in mind that it will not necessarily catch everything. The most recent expulsion that we had, where the farmer was expelled from the scheme because of the use of an electrical goad, it is highly unlikely he would have used that goad had an inspector turned up at his gate.
So it may not have caught that kind of practice. But I think perhaps there are bigger issues with the unannounced audit in the farming world. Unannounced audits are a very common feature of other parts of the food chain.
Food processors and manufacturers would be subject to a lot of unannounced audits, not just from assurance schemes but from retailers and food customers as well. So it is a more accepted part of that food chain.
In the farming world there are some practicalities involved with unannounced inspections and we have a lot of very small farms that are managed by the farmer and maybe one or two employees if that.
We have to be aware that when we send an inspector down the farm path there is considerable cost to that. If that inspector arrives and the farmer is out in the field or possibly at the market, and then the inspector has to wait several hours before he can start the inspection, we have that practicality, that increased cost which clearly we do not want to be driving a lot of cost into the food chain at a time when the margins are so tough.
When we develop that risk-based approach we have to think all the consequences and all the practicalities of doing that.
I think without doubt that risk-based approach will involve both pre-arranged, very short notice and completely unannounced visits.