Plans to get the Red Tractor assurance scheme recognised under the EU-wide Renewable Energy Directive have moved a step closer, according to the NFU.

If, as hoped, the EU Commission accepts the scheme by this harvest, it will allow UK farmers to more easily access certain key European markets by demonstrating they meet the new RED sustainability requirements for biofuel crops.

Compliance with the RED is essential for crops that are to be sold into biofuels markets, such as oilseed rape, going to the important German biodiesel industry. The Red Tractor’s approval would mean UK crop would be able to access all such markets without the need for separate forms and audits that currently exists, the NFU’s crops adviser, Ruth Digby, said.

Significant additional costs and regulatory burden were being incurred by the trade at the moment as farmers had to be audited under the German RED-approved ISCC assurance scheme as part of their certification in order to export crop, she said.

“The [Red Tractor] scheme was first submitted more than eighteen months ago, but a number of delays were encountered during the approval process. However, we are now getting positive signals that our hard work has paid off, which would be welcome in time for this year’s harvest.”

Acceptance of the Red Tractor scheme, which has more than 16,000 members in England and Wales, would help ensure UK exports of crop and products were not disrupted and not traded at a discount in the market, she added. “Although it has yet to gain the formal approval, it has now entered the final stages, which is a big step forward towards the end point.”

The Scottish Quality Crops scheme is also understood to be at the same point in the EU approval process.

The Red Tractor Crops and Sugar Beet Scheme standards have been updated to incorporate small changes to existing environmental impact standards in order to fulfill the RED requirements that aim to protect high-carbon and highly-biodiverse land areas. Relevant information and proof of land use is checked and recorded as part of the annual farm assurance inspection.

Crops covered by the scheme include wheat, barley, rye, oilseeds, pulses and sugar beet.

Matthew Read, chairman of the Red Tractor Crops and Sugar Beet scheme, added: “We have great confidence in the quality of the Red Tractor Crops and Sugar Beet scheme which, as well as its food safety objectives, has at its heart environmental protection and traceability.

“Red Tractor standards are known and trusted in supply chains and we wanted to ensure this strength works to our members’ advantage. Through their membership farmers could retain access to the important European marketplace for their crops, without the need for additional audits and form filling for every company they trade with.”