7 April 2000

Integration is

key on mixed unit

A single Assured

Produce and Assured

Combinable Crops

Scheme would please many

growers. Andrew Swallow

reports from one such

grower in Kent, and

Vicky Houchin

relays where APS fits

in the retailers plans

ASSURANCE is a fact of 21st century farming life and the Assured Produce Scheme and Assured Combinable Crops Schemes are reasonable ways to achieve that, according to one Kent grower.

But she is not complacent about the cost of such schemes. "I am all for growers continuing to query the cost of these schemes," says Marion Regan of Hugh Lowe Farms, Mereworth.

The farms 48ha (120 acres) of soft fruit and 330ha (820 acres) of combinable crops are registered under APS and ACCS respectively. When joining the schemes two years ago systems on the farm were set up to meet both standards.

"We have taken quite a lot of trouble to integrate them here. There is no point having separate records so we sat down with both manuals open to compare the two."

Optimixs Select software is used to keep records, including the numerous off-label approvals needed for the soft-fruit and the farm has one safety policy. APS is more detailed, but worth the effort as that one scheme meets the needs of a range of retailers.

"It can only be a good thing to pre-empt a proliferation of standards. I would be completely desk bound if there hadnt been one unifying scheme," she says.

At £350/year, ACCS costs the farm more than the produce scheme, and has more general standards, but it is still worthwhile, says Mrs Regan.

"Assurance is just a step in the process of continual improvement. It is the nature of business nowadays."

All costs on the farm are allocated on a tonnage basis, and viewed like that the schemes are good value. However, she would like to see an open accounting policy by the schemes administrators. "Then we could see our money is being spent wisely," she says.

Premiums are unlikely to be obtained with either scheme she concedes, even though consumers might be prepared to pay more if they were aware of the standards. That said, she is not in favour of labelling produce as farm assured.

"There is a danger of too much detail on the label leading to confusion. Our job is one step back, to get the confidence of the supermarket buyer and assurance helps us do that."

Assured produce progress

Crop Reg area % national (ha) crop

Potatoes 95,000 57

Vegetables 90,000 75

Fruit 17,000 60

Salads 9000 84

As of end Oct 99.

Membership Mar 24: 3543

Combined ACCS/APS promise

Real progress is being made towards a combined produce and combinable crops assurance scheme, says ACCS board member and farmer Adrian Peck. "There should be some exciting news on assurance soon, and it is not just on subscription costs. Those in APS and ACCS should see a distinct advantage." A combined scheme would certainly be welcomed by Mrs Regan. "I wish they would do that," she comments. At present APS membership costs £175-285 depending on quantity of produce grown.