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Red Tractor urged to discontinue Greener Farms Commitment by farming unions and AHDB

6th Mar 2024 / By Alistair Driver

The UK farming unions and AHDB have called for Red Tractor to discontinue its plans to introduce a Greener Farms Commitment (GFC). 

Greener Farms CommitmentThey have issued a joint response to the report from consultants Campbell Tickell on Red Tractor’s governance, published in February.

The review found Red Tractor had followed the agreed governance process in developing the GFC, but showed this process had fallen ‘well short of winning the consent of its farming members’, the statement said. 

The farming unions and AHDB call for Red Tractor to use the report’s recommendations to ‘rebuild trust with farming members’ and set out six pieces of advice to the AFS (Assured Food Standards) Board and leadership.

This included 'strongly recommending that the Greener Farms Commitment module development is discontinued'. Red Tractor's announcement that it intended to introduce the GFC from this April to provide assurances about farm's environmental credentials prompted a backlash from farmers over a lack of consultation and unanswered questions about where the cost burden would fall. 

“It is for the AFS Board to consider and agree in what form and when it should commission work on sustainability standards. We recommend that any development must evidently and transparently work with all constituencies across the food and farming supply chain, learning from the distinctions across UK agriculture and horticulture, and particularly sectors with clear demand," the statement said. 

“The UK Farming Unions and AHDB are very clear that the Greener Farms Commitment will be unable to command any level of support no matter what consultation is put in place. Resumption of work on the Greener Farms Commitment module would be extremely damaging to Red Tractor’s reputation.

“Instead, the AFS board needs to begin from first principles in ‘full consultation mode’ and once trust has been re-established, to offer the best basis for propelling action on these issues.”

Rebuild Trust

The farming unions and AHDB request that the AFS Board ‘prioritises rebuilding trust and partnership with its farming constituency, listening to and engaging with farmers and growers’.

“We recognise our clear support for AFS and its programme is crucial, especially as many among our farming constituencies were vocally sceptical of the Greener Farms Commitment and, by extension, Red Tractor. Such opposition presents an existential threat to the business,” the statement says.

“This threat must be addressed by action from Red Tractor that rekindles the spirit of trust, partnership and collective endeavour that characterised Red Tractor’s earlier development. Such action would enable supportive statements from farming stakeholders.”

They go onto ‘encourage’ AFS to contribute to the general review of farm assurance, which they are sponsoring.

The farming unions and AHDB stress that they continue to support the basic objectives that established and underpin the role of Red Tractor and recognise that it ‘fulfils and should retain its position as a principal core farm assurance standard of choice for producers and retailers in the UK’.

Red Tractor comment

A Red Tractor spokesman said the AFS Board, including NFU and AHDB, met on Friday, March 1, to discuss the Campbell Tickell report for the first time.

“The board is considering every aspect of the report carefully,” he said. “This includes the Greener Farms Commitment, which remains on hold since October. This process is clearly a priority and will be completed properly before any decisions are taken on next steps.

“The Campbell Tickell governance review is an essential opportunity for us to reflect and refresh the way Red Tractor delivers its role for all stakeholders.

“Balancing differing views across the supply chain is difficult at any time, but we hear loud and clear the level of frustration farmers feel in the current operating environment, and we will listen carefully and take these views into account.”

Commenting after the governance review was published, Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon noted that it concluded that ‘Red Tractor governance is sound’ and found ‘no procedural breaches’ had taken place.

However, she added: “The review sends a clear message about the level of frustration farmers feel and we need to listen carefully to their views.”