3 April 1998

Verifiers and farmer

benefited from dummy run

farmers weeklys Easton

Lodge Farm is one of the

4000 plus farms to register

for the Assured Combinable

Crops Scheme. Edward Long

joined a verifiers training

day to see what manager

John Lambkin needs to do to

gain acceptance before this

harvest

C OMBINING seemed a long way off when Robin Pirie met locally-based ACCS verifiers Angus Kennedy, Paul Spackman and Tim Strickland on the farm in February. Mr Pirie manages the eastern region for the ACCSs administrator, UK Food Quality Certification.

It was one of a series of dummy runs for verifiers, but John Lambkin was also keen to see what it would entail.

A start was made with the chemical store. It was locked, with a hazard notice on the door and a bunded entrance. There was no sign of out-of-date or decanted chemicals.

Moving to the grain store, the team noted it was weather-proof and dark inside when the doors were opened, discouraging birds.

But when the lights were turned on the first cross was entered on the verification sheet, for uncovered light fittings, the most common deficiency. Glass contamination is unacceptable. No compromise here.

"Fitting protective sleeves to tubes and plastic covers to bulbs is one of the most cost-effective single measures that can be taken to boost customer confidence," said Mr Pirie.

The store is next to an intensive pig unit, so rats are a constant threat. Noting bait boxes, the verifiers asked about rodent control and were satisfied with monthly visits by Peterborough City Council specialists.

The empty store is cleaned by farm staff and fumigated by a contractor, all recorded in the farm diary. The scheme also requires pest monitoring during storage, so bait bags and pitfall traps will be used in future.

Grain lot labelling with variety name and field identification, plus evidence of weekly moisture and temperature monitoring immediately post-harvest are also required.

A moisture meter and temperature probe should be available, with evidence that they are calibrated.

Next, fertiliser. Easton Lodges P and K fertiliser is delivered in the autumn and stored on concrete in the open until needed for spreading, usually within four weeks.

Two types of N are used. An 8% liquid which is held in a butyl-lined lagoon behind a security fence, while urea in big bags is stored under polythene in a lean-to building. The lagoon complies with both HSE and local water company regulations and is not part of the ACCS scheme.

The roof over the bagged N was suspect, but considered sufficient to prevent it from getting wet.

ACCS verifiers require a farm policy covering spillage, with storage on a firm base so that spilled material can be recovered. Easton Lodges bagged urea is on pallets on a limestone base; any losses are swept up and added to the fym heap.

Fertiliser spreaders and sprayers must be well maintained and calibrated, backed by records.

Easton Lodges 15-year-old Chafer Pathfinder for liquid N, the farms 20m (66ft) Kuhn pneumatic spreader and the Knight sprayer are regularly calibrated, checked and properly documented.

An operator born since the end of 1964 must hold a certificate of competence. Anyone olderhas "grandfather" rights and doesnt need a certificate, but should have relevant training.

Easton Lodges farm foreman David Cham qualifies for the age dispensation and satisfied the verifiers he has undergone the necessary training.

He produced spray operator instruction sheets and was asked about the farms spray policy and the proximity of watercourses.

He was also asked the fate of empty pesticide containers, and sprayer washings to the verifiers satisfaction.

Spraying details – rates, volumes, duration, area covered, plus wind speed and direction, with reasons for treatment – are recorded by an RDS "black box" on the tractor and transferred to the farm computer. ACCS requires details of crop growth stages, so these will be included this season.

There was no combine for the team to check, because a refurbished machine is hired for each harvest. The farms grain trailer is frequently cleaned out because it is used for seed production.

After testing the farms facilities and equipment the group moved to the office to check that Mr Lambkin has the MAFF Code of Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Soil, Air, and Water, LEAF integrated crop management provisions, and the new edition of the Safe Use of Pesticides booklet.

The team was satisfied with the field records of type and rate of fertiliser used and the date applied.

John Lambkin confirmed that he checks the cleanliness of grain lorries arriving to load, but admitted not keeping a sample from each load leaving the farm, a requirement of the scheme. Every load will in future be sampled and checked it is covered before it leaves.

Soil analysis results were also produced. The whole farm is sampled by ADAS every four years and was last done in July 1997.

At the end of the three-hour-long check the verifiers only had a handful of crosses. No fault was considered serious and all could be rectified easily and cheaply.

Training is something verifiers are keen to check on. Here farm foreman David Cham explains his qualifications and spray recording procedures.

Farm reactions

John Lambkin was delighted the farm had done so well.

"It was a most useful exercise and showed we are not far adrift," he says. "Anyone doing a reasonable job should be almost there.

"There is absolutely no point resisting its introduction. We want to be in the first wave of farms gaining acceptance."

The official view

Easton Lodges handful of crosses on the verification sheet is in line with what is anticipated for most other farms registering for the scheme.

"In the first wave there are likely to be between five and 10 things to put right," commented Robin Pirie. "There is no reason why most who register should not be included in the scheme."

Now the grain store. All looked well until the fluorescent lighting was spotted (inset). Tubes could shatter and contaminate grain with impossible-to-remove glass. So shatter-proof covers are needed.

Go on then, prove it! Farm records were inspected rigorously for evidence of equipment checks, store monitoring and appropriate input use.

Chemical store run down – full marks here, with good signage, and appropriately bunded entrance and no sign of old or decanted products.