Red Tractor has announced that plans to implement its Greener Farms Commitment will be halted until the NFU’s independent review is completed.
Red Tractor announced in early October that it would be introducing the voluntary Greener Farms Commitment scheme from April 2024 with the aim of providing assurance to consumers over farms’ environmental credentials. The announcement was met with praise and backing from the British Retail Consortium and came with supportive statements from Sainsbury’s. M&S, Tesco and Morrisons.
However, serious concerns were raised by farmers across the sector, including from the NFU who expressed concern about the delivery of the scheme and, whilst recognising and embracing the increasing role of sustainability in farm assurance, the NFU Council members felt that more granular, technical and practical elements of the GFC should have been consulted on more widely before the module was unveiled.
The NFU’s council meeting earlier this month saw a ‘passionate’ discussion about the topic and the NFU then announced that it would be carrying out two reviews – one into the governance of Red Tractor and a longer review aimed at ‘revolutionising’ farm to fork assurance.
Red Tractor’s main board met last week and confirmed its support for the reviews, saying it would fully cooperate. The board also announced that they would not continue with the implementation of any new standards or additional modules until the governance review is completed.
Red Tractor Chair, Christine Tacon said: “As the team have been working with our Technical Advisory Committees and Sector Boards on the detail of the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC), the strength of feeling from farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has become clear to everyone.
“It has been a difficult period across UK agriculture, which has brought forward frustration from farmers that runs deeper than just our proposals for an environment module. We recognise that and have decided that the NFU’s independent review of Red Tractor governance must come first.
“There will be no decisions on the implementation or timing of the GFC or on other changes to existing Red Tractor Standards until that NFU review is complete. Any continuation of work on an environment module would need to include more detailed dialogue with farmers and supply chains and consider relevant government policy on agriculture for all UK nations.
“The views of our members are very important, and we are sorry that we have been slow to understand them fully. The discussion that has been provoked is essential and offers a great opportunity for the farming sectors and supply chains to work together.”
She said the conversations would continue with Red Tractor’s Technical Advisory Committees, Sector Boards, the new Development Advisory Panel and more widely.
“It is vital to talk more about the benefits of farm assurance overall, and the challenge of how to demonstrate progress on environmentally focused farming in each sector, for example,” she said.
“We hope this approach will help the NFU to achieve its goal of completing the first review by the end of January 2024. In the meantime, we will continue to work to the Standards already in place and support consumer trust in the Red Tractor logo.”
An NFU spokesperson said: “This is welcome news – it’s what NFU members and NFU Council have asked for.
“The hard work to get these reviews underway has already begun. Our immediate focus is getting the first review up and running, with the second review into UK food assurance to follow.”