7 April 2000

ACCScharge cuts

coming but not yet

Whether it is grain or

fresh produce, assurance

is increasingly seen as

essential to market the

farms output. But is it?

In this special feature

edited by Andrew

Swallow, farmers weekly

details the retailers

position on assured

produce, reports on what

assurance standards are

applied to grain in other

countries, and asks a

milling wheat grower how

he hopes to go it alone.

But first Andrew Swallow

tackles Assured

Combinable Crops

Scheme verifier UKFQC

and a member of the

independent board of

ACCS on what the future

holds for the scheme

ASSURED Combinable Crops Scheme verifier UKFQC has promised growers registration charges for the scheme will fall, but that will not happen until harvest 2001.

Combinable crops director, Robin Pirie, says there is no point in changing the system until UKFQCs contract for verification of the ACCS scheme runs out in June 2001.

"Our discussions with the ACCS board do include reductions in registration fees. We are acutely aware of the situation in agriculture and the comments that have been made about ACCS fees, especially from those who have already made two subscriptions.

"These members would be prime targets to be rewarded for their commitment to the scheme when we come to renewal of the contract," he says.

But any change to subscription rates now would mean sending refunds to members who have already signed up to assure their harvest 2000 crops and that would not be worth the effort, he adds.

Cambs grower Adrian Peck, who is one of four NFU representatives on the 12-strong board of ACCS, confirms that growers could see a cut in subscription rates for harvest 2001. Beyond that, rates would depend on who wins the verification contract. "What we want is the fairest possible deal for growers that is credible."

Suggestions that ACCS decisions are dominated by the demands of the trade board members are strongly denied by Mr Peck. "That is absolute nonsense. It is not a cosy club and no farmer wants any more cost than is absolutely necessary.

"The trade are not trying to impose on us as farmers. The standards have been drawn up to be within the bounds of what is achievable."

The way is open to others to set up their own assurance schemes as an alternative to ACCS, he adds.

"There can be as many schemes as you like. We are not afraid of the competition. If Genesis turns out to be a cheaper alternative they may get more growers."

Mr Peck also stresses that no board member, trade, NFU or otherwise is financially rewarded for their input.

"None of the ACCS board is paid, and never has been paid." Rising membership figures point to the success and acceptability of the scheme with most growers, he says (see box).

As of Mar 28, over 90% of last harvests 8,425 members had re-committed, says Mr Pirie and accusations that UKFQC is bullying growers into joining are unreasonable. ACCS provides one scheme meeting all buyers requirements, verified in one visit, and membership is voluntary, he says.

"At the end of the day, what do farmers want? They have seen the problems on the livestock side."

If growers do not like the schemes standards, they should direct their concerns to the board of ACCS. UKFQC is simply meeting the needs of its customers, the farmer and ACCS in providing a verification service, he adds. "We are just doing the job we are paid to do.

"Farmers have to ask themselves who is the customer. Years ago farmers had no customers, but things have changed a lot now. It is a buyers market," he concludes.

Who checks the ACCS checkers?

The self-employed verifiers of the ACCS scheme are all working to a common standard, and regional managers regularly shadow them on farm to check that is so, says UKFQC combinable crops director, Robin Pirie.

Initially there may have been some variation, but now the one or two verifiers who were not up to scratch have been weeded out, he says. "We have got to make sure we are being consistent."

UKFQC itself is working towards meeting the standards of the UK Accreditation Standard EN4511, he adds. "But it wont be before next harvest." Most growers receiving repeat ACCS verification visits have corrected any non-compliance points picked up by the first visit. "If they havent they are suspended. The scheme has to have teeth," he says. Such repeat visits cost UKFQC less, as verifiers are paid at a lower set-rate, but Mr Pirie refuses to reveal how much.

UKFQCS/ACCS

&#8226 9110 paid up members by Mar 28.

&#8226 Covers 1.66m hectares on 12,500 farms.

&#8226 Over 90% renewed membership.

&#8226 Target 10,500 members by harvest = 75-80% of crop.

Adamant backer, reluctant subscriber, or absolute anti. Where do you stand on assurance issues? farmers weekly invites you to have your say.

If you think the systems in place are on the right track, let us know. If not, can you make some suggestions how things might be improved? Do we need farm assurance at all? Will the NFUs Kite Mark secure markets?

We have set up a dedicated phoneline for you to voice your opinions and suggestions. Alternatively you can fax, write, or e-mail. We will report your comments in a coming issue of FW. Its over to you…

Tel: 0208 652 4902

Fax: 0208 652 4005

E-mail: andrew.swallow@rbi.co.uk

Or write to: FARMERS WEEKLY, "Crop Assurance Answers", Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey, SM2 5AS