National combinable crops board vice-chair James Cox on the Red Tractor consultation ending 5 March

Red Tractor consultation – a blog from your vice-chairman James Cox.

The UK arable sector can be rightly proud of the standards that they follow in producing crops on their farms. Over the past 20 years those standards have been assured for the processors and consumers by farmers being members of the Red Tractor scheme and it would be fair to argue that the scheme has focused our minds on the importance of food safety and traceability of the commodities that we grow. Red Tractor can be an asset to arable businesses, if value for growers is clearly demonstrated. As a result, it’s important as many growers as possible let Red Tractor know how the value we receive from our membership might be affected by the changes they are proposing.

Over the past twelve months, farmers have been representing Red Tractor members on Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) and sector boards as Red Tractor has looked to introduce their new, Version 5, standards. These meetings have been frequent, long and detailed discussions on the proposed standards to come forward to the consultation that has opened on 5 January 2021 and which closes on 5 March 2021.

I hope that as many members as possible will find the opportunity to attend a meeting where Red Tractor staff will be able to present to you the changes they are consulting on at this time and you will have the chance to ask questions about why new standards are considered necessary.

You will no doubt hear of one or two areas that had been considered for introduction into the standards but were put aside following reasoned arguments from your farmer representatives.

Those same farmers also argued that many of the proposed changes to the standards on which you are now being consulted were also not fit for purpose and are excessive for your sector. This is perhaps most obvious in relation to sections which have been largely copied over from the fresh produce sector standards, especially those on ‘personnel’ which do not fit so well in our sector. However, we weren’t just concerned about the content of this review. Your arable farmer representatives urged Red Tractor to reconsider the timing of the consultation given the range of challenges we are already facing I know this to be the case, because I am one of those representing you on the Red Tractor crops and sugar beet board.

With net zero, ELMs, Brexit and new agriculture and environment policies consuming us at this time, looking to push the standards too far and too fast would risk us losing many of the opportunities that we hope will open up for our businesses as we come to terms with the changing landscape.

In our sector, we are particularly vulnerable to the impact that imports can have on our markets. We are operating in a worldwide commodity market that forms the basis for the price we receive. Yet generally, we must also be assured to standards significantly above and beyond that of grain coming from many of our competitor countries. This increases the cost of production for UK farmers, and puts us at a disadvantage. Whilst imported grains will come with trade assurance as to their food safety, there is no guarantee that they will have been produced and stored to the same farm assurance standards that we are held to by being Red Tractor members.

I choose to grow milling wheat for Warburtons and malting barley for Molson Coors and I am happy to have the backing of Red Tractor to assure my customers that it is produced to be safe, traceable and farmed with care.

When you respond to the consultation, which I genuinely hope you will, you will need to decide whether the proposed changes will allow your business to thrive in the current climate and challenges we face in the next few years.

You can find the Red Tractor consultation hub on their website. Please, try to find time to have a look at it, and make sure you use the ‘have your say on the Red Tractor standards’ response tool, rather than the ‘let us know what matters to you and your business’ tool. The first option will take longer, but you will have full sight of what standards are proposed to be applied to your farming business and be able to comment on them before Red Tractor finalise the Version 5 standards.

James Cox
National combinable crops board vice-chair 


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