15 May 1998

Now assurance scheme moves into high gear

By Amanda Dunn

VERIFIERS almost half way through this years scheduled Assured Combinable Crops Scheme farm inspections are seeing encouraging results. But some farmers feel there is potential for improvement within the scheme.

"Just over 2200 farms have now been inspected, of which approximately 70% have passed and 30% have had membership deferred," says Tim Hughes, joint chairman for UK Food Quality Certification.

"Of those passing, the majority are subject to rectifying minor non-conformities, such as acquiring a grain thermometer before storing grain, or seeking confirmation of machine calibration from a contractor."

Other farmers who have been offered deferred membership will not receive their certificate until non-conformities have been rectified. But here again many of the requirements are not onerous, says Mr Hughes.

"Approximately 60% of applicants with deferred membership dont have a bund around their chemical store. Others dont have a warning notice on the store door.

John Errington, manager at Heathcote Farms in Bedfordshire passed his inspection last week subject to three minor non-conformities. "Prior to the visit I renewed seals around some of the grain stores, and have since had to invest in pitfall traps and protective covers for lights."

But whilst fully supportive of the scheme, Mr Errington is concerned about the inspection visits. "From what Ive heard, theres a lot of inconsistency. I believe its wrong to use people for the verification visits who havent been successful in the agricultural sphere in the past to do."

David Taylor of Waterloo Farm, Bicester, Oxon farms 360ha (1000acres) and was inspected shortly after Easter. He echoes Mr Erringtons comments. "Speaking to other farmers I have found some dissimilarities, with emphasis placed by verifiers on certain areas of the scheme. This appears to be largely attributable to the background of the verifier.

Mr Hughes disputes any suggestions of variable verification procedures. "When on visits verifiers are required to work through a very definitive verification protocol, the structure of which makes it impossible for one verifier to go into any more detail than the next."

He also defends the quality of the verification staff. "Verifiers were selected from over 600 applications.

Clearly there are those with an agricultural background who may have been consultants. But it doesnt follow that they have failed."

ACCS VERIFICATION

* 5,000 applications

* 7,500-8,000 farms represented

* 6.73t combinable crops

* 2,200 visits

– 70% pass

– 30% deferred membership

– under 10% revisits

ACCSVERIFICATION

&#8226 5000 applications.

&#8226 6.73t combinable crops.

&#8226 2200 visits -70% pass; 30% deferred membership; under 10% revisits.