7 May 1999

ACCS wreckers take a hammering

By Andrew Blake

CRITICS of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme could undermine the whole of the countrys arable production, says the director of one of the few farms ACCS approved at first inspection.

"The moaners and promoters of rival schemes should stop whingeing and get together behind ACCS. If we do not all pull together the chances are we shall have something else imposed on us," says Alexander de Capell Brooke of Great Oakley Farms, Corby, Northants. "I believe ACCS wreckers should not be in farming."

His 400ha (1000 acres) of heavy clay cropping accounts for about half of an estate in his familys ownership since 1575. "It is difficult land, but well looked after it yields over 4t/acre of wheat." Winter oilseed rape and beans are the breaks.

The home farm, including 120ha (300 acres) of grass let for grazing, is run by only two men with student help at harvest.

Far from being an unnecessary burden, ACCS requirements have spurred tighter management of an already efficient operation, says Mr de Capell Brooke. "More farmers need to become businessmen.

"The scheme may have its faults, but they can be ironed out, and I believe it has a great future. It is up to us all to make it as successful and viable as we can for millers and others to respect and acknowledge."

All the farms grain is marketed through Viking Cereals. Premium payments for ACCS quality are unlikely, he says. "But many co-ops are saying that it is definitely easier to market grain from ACCS farms this year."

Out of 80 farms inspected in the region, Great Oakley was one of only two to pass outright. Sound investment in field and storage equipment and good maintenance over the years clearly smoothed the task of qualifying. So, too, did tips from a half-day mock inspection by the farms independent agronomist, Paul Spackman. He was a verifier elsewhere, but not at Great Oakley Farms.

1680t of Bentall air-swept grain drying bins installed in the 1980s backed by 400t of older bins provide the main storage. An overflow on-floor store beside an office/ workshop newly created from old cattle sheds is also available.

Main modification, as on many other farms, was the need for plastic covers on the store lights. A cyclone to direct chaff from the cleaner to a trailer was also installed. "It avoids having a great pile just outside which attracts rats," says working manager, Brian Bell.

Rodent control was put out to contractor, Acorn Environmental, to ensure routine coverage, especially when farm staff are busy, and to gain access to poisons not available to growers, says Mr de Capell Brooke.

Joining the scheme inevitably meant more record keeping, he admits. "But we were 95% of the way there anyway. It does increase the staffs workload, but it is not the burden we thought it might be."

"We have always washed out trailers and greased them before harvest," says Mr Bell, who has worked on the farm for 33 years. "But it is only in the past 12 months that we have started writing it down.

"I think the scheme does us good. It gives us a chance to show that we are doing something properly. We have always tried to be pretty tidy for our own benefit. It saves scrabbling through rubbish to find something that we need." Much of the verification process involves gauging farmers attitudes, says Mr Spackman. He has made all the field recommendations and sourced the farms chemical supplies since 1991.

ACCSs key shortcoming, according to Mr de Capell Brooke, is its lack of random, spot checks. "It is bizarre that it does not have them. I would welcome them."

In theory verifiers reserve the right to reinspect without notice, notes Mr Spackman. "But I am not aware that it has been done yet." &#42

Chairman hits at the myths

Myths surrounding the ACCS are easily dispelled by the facts, says chairman, Jonathan Tipples.

Myth The scheme is run by the trade or trade body UKASTA.

Fact It is run by a board of 12 directors, 4 from the NFU, 3 UKASTA, 1 each NABIM, MAGB, SCOPA, FAC, LEAF. The rules state that the chairman will be a farmer.

Myth There are 30 more forms to fill in.

Fact The pro-forma record book contains four pages. Any extra pages depend entirely on the number of fields or grain stores an individual member has. There is no requirement to use the scheme record book if a member has an alternative approach.

Myth No one else in the world is doing it.

Fact Other countries are working on schemes and the French will launch theirs in mid-June. Australia has one based on the alternative HACCP approach to hazard analysis, and a recent Brussels meeting highlighted pilot schemes in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and Spain.

Myth The directors are making a fortune.

Fact No director earns a penny from Assured Combinable Crops.

Myth The standards will be increased once everyone is in.

Fact There is no desire by the board to make the standards any more onerous than necessary.

Myth The scheme could have been much cheaper.

Fact Verification and administration was on open tender. If a creditable company had tendered much cheaper they would have got the job.

Myth Imported grain and raw materials are not subjected to any tests.

Fact Under the Food Safety Act, all suppliers of materials entering the food chain have to exercise due diligence. If anyone doubts the lengths they go to, talk to a buyer from a feed compounder, miller or maltster.