22 August 1997

Growers say No to combineable crop assurance

By Tony McDougal

CEREAL farmers opposed to the industrys proposed combinable crops assurance scheme are prepared to take their case to Westminster and Brussels, claiming it will distort trade.

They are questioning UK growers support for the scheme, and are also unhappy about plans by the merchants organisation UKASTA to set up its own scheme to fill the gap between farm gate and end-user.

The NFUs farm assurance scheme, launched at Cereals 97, will come into full effect next harvest, and is designed to introduce best practice for the production and handling on farm of cereals, oilseeds and protein crops. UKASTAs bolt-on scheme for merchants will look at road haulage, grain storage and grain testing facilities.

Robert Robertson, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses agricultural branch, said his surveyed members had deplored the NFUs proposals.

"We received responses from about 100 of our 160 cereal farmers and only one supported it. Most people said it would take away farmers independence and would create an unlevel playing field.

"The French, Italians and Germans wont have it, so why should we have to put up with it. The nature of the whole scheme suggests that we are not producing good grain, and it just shows that farmers are in the hands of the multiples," he added.

Mr Robertson, who farms 93ha (230 acres) of combinable crops at Thanet, east Kent, argued the additional paperwork caused by the farm assurance scheme would cost cereal farmers and put them at a disadvantage against their EU competitors. In turn, this would distort trade and effectively break clauses within the Treaty of Rome, he alleged.

Consumer demand

But the NFU argued that it was responding to consumer demand for increased transparency and accountability in the farm production chain following the BSE scare.

An NFU spokeswoman said the scheme would prevent a plethora of half-baked projects from getting off the ground, and would not add to bureaucracy. She claimed responses had been high and a database was already up and running, with subscriptions expected to start flowing in next month.

Jamie Day, UKASTA spokesman, said work on the road haulage scheme had been placed on a fast-track following the allegations in a national paper that merchants were transporting feed wheat in lorries previously used and not cleaned for meat and bonemeal.

Mr Day said work on grain storage and grain laboratory testing – which might involve merchants moving towards an accreditation scheme – was ongoing, and draft tender proposals were being drawn up.