Oilseed rape is loaded into a lorry© Tim Scrivener

Red Tractor officials have just three weeks left to get European Commission reapproval for its certification scheme for crops grown for the European biofuels market.

The commission granted a temporary extension back in August to ensure that Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) remains valid as a sustainability certification mechanism for British-grown biofuels.

However, that extension comes to an end on 6 November 2017, meaning that industry officials have less than a month to either get the commission to agree to full reapproval of the scheme, or if this is not possible, to grant another three-month extension.

See also: EU gives approval for Red Tractor renewable crops

If neither of these happens, the market for wheat and oilseed rape would face significant disruption, as the crops could not be handled by renewable energy plants because of criteria set down in the Renewable Energy Directive (see “The history”).

About 40% of British-grown oilseed rape is exported and turned into bioethanol on the Continent.

Bioethanol plants in the north-east of England also account for about 2m tonnes of wheat a year.

‘Accelerated’ process

In a letter to farmer members, issued last week, Red Tractor Assurance said with just three weeks before the extension expires, it wanted to update farmers on the situation.

A technical appraisal of the RTA scheme had been completed on the 29 September 2017, so the process of formal recognition was already under way by the European Commission.

The commission had agreed to run an “accelerated” process, with the aim of getting the Red Tractor scheme recognised before 6 November, it said.

However, the commission was also “actively considering” a further three-month extension if it cannot ratify the scheme in time.

The commission had advised Red Tractor “with increasing confidence” that the scheme will not lapse, but they were “unable to give a cast-iron guarantee”, the letter stressed.

Daily dialogue

“Red Tractor has done, and is continuing to do, everything in its power to ensure recognition for assured crops under the Renewable Energy Directive is confirmed before the current extension lapses,” Jim Moseley, chief executive of Red Tractor Assurance, told Farmers Weekly.

“Working with our stakeholders and allied industry, we are in daily dialogue with the European Commission, which fully understands the need for urgency on this matter.”

NFU meets MEPs

Tori Morgan, combinable crops adviser for the NFU, said the union had met with the European Commission on 12 October to stress the urgency of the situation and to explain the potential effect on UK farmers.

It had also met with relevant MEPs from the European Parliament and they will be writing to the commission to back the case for reapproval.

“The NFU is working to support Red Tractor and is focused on trying to achieve either full reapproval or a further extension,” said Ms Morgan. “We are keen to avoid a lapse.”

Ms Morgan said the union would keep pressing the commission for a decision to give certainty to the supply chain.

In the meantime, she advised anyone supplying crops into the biofuel supply chain to talk to their grain merchant ahead of 6 November.

The history of the Red Tractor biofuel scheme

The Red Tractor scheme has been used since 2012 to show that British crops entering the biofuels supply chain meet the EU’s sustainability criteria, as set out by the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

Like all schemes of its kind, the Red Tractor scheme was approved by the European Commission for a period of five years and every scheme must apply for reapproval at the end of that period.

Red Tractor officials applied for renewal in spring 2017, but the commission was not able to complete the reapproval process in time.

Red Tractor was therefore given an extension until 6 November 2017.