AHDB and farming unions call for Red Tractor to scrap Greener Farms Commitment

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The UK farming unions and AHDB have called for Red Tractor to scrap its plans to introduce the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) bolt-on that has caused controversy across the industry.

In a joint response to the report from consultants Campbell Tickell on its governance published in February, they urge Red Tractor to work across the supply chain in developing future sustainability standards, and warn that the continuation of the GFC would be ‘extremely damaging to Red Tractor’s reputation’.

While the review found Red Tractor followed agreed governance processes in developing the GFC, it fell “well short of winning the consent of its farming members”, the statement said. The Campbell Tickell report urged Red Tractor to improve communications and to prioritise stakeholder engagement.

The farming unions and AHDB called for Red Tractor to use the recommendations to “rebuild trust with farming members”, with the last of their six pieces of advice to the AFS (Assured Food Standards) Board and Leadership being that GFC development is discontinued.

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They said: “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 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.”

They also requested 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 continue by asking AFS to contribute to the general review of farm assurance, which they are sponsoring.

“Red Tractor has a dominant market position, longevity and considerable practical experience to offer the independent Commission that will shortly conduct a review of farm assurance. It is vital that the Commission hears these insights during the review,” they add.

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’.

They recommend that the AFS leadership team and AFS Board ‘move swiftly to implement the governance recommendations contained in Campbell Tickell’s report’.

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

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


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