News on quality assurance was in abundance at Vine Farm – Tom Allen Stevens rounds it up.
ONE verification visit is in prospect for cereal and potato growers who are members of Assured Combinable Crops (ACCS) and of Assured Produce (APS), according to ACCS chairman Jonathan Tipples.
He announced a new pilot scheme this summer to assess the possibility of combining the verification of APS potatoes with ACCS cereals. More APS crops will be included in one verification with cereals if the pilot runs smoothly. "Our ultimate aim is for farmers to receive just one verification visit a holding, no matter how many enterprises."
A similar pilot scheme is already running in Scotland, with combined verifications of Scottish Quality Cereals, Beef and Lamb, Trout and Scottish Pig Industry Initiative. Director of SFQC (Scottish Food Quality Certification) Peter Brown stated that the results of the pilot had already been lodged with the Scottish Office and that they would be made public at the Highland Show. "Its a process of evolution, though, not revolution. Itll be a good two years before the majority of overlap of the various schemes will be covered by one inspection."
NFU president Ben Gill welcomed the news: "Its inevitable that the schemes would adapt and evolve and its nice to see them going in the right direction, at last."
Rival assurance scheme Genesis claims that support from farmers has been overwhelming. In its first week, 2000 copies of the scheme have been dispatched to supporters and the phone lines have been jammed with farmers enquiries.
Scheme director Martin Barker is hoping to draft help from NFU branch offices and livestock markets to help clear the backlog of printing and distributing. On joining the scheme, farmers will also receive a CD-Rom containing hundreds of farm policy details. "This will help reduce the burden of paperwork on the farmer," Mr Barker says.
The French are moving forward with farm assurance with buyer assurances similar to ACCS. Paul Calver, southern regional manager with ACCS, summarises the scheme: "It has a higher emphasis on environmental issues but is not quite as tight on handling or storage as ACCS. I think it will be regarded as equivalent, however."
France is not the only country in Europe seeking an equivalent scheme to ACCS. A working party has been set up by European union bodies COPA and COGECA to monitor schemes as they arise to ensure that there is some pan-European equivalence – ACCS sends a representative to meetings.
Grain merchants will be able to gain access to ACCS members records over the internet from the 1999 harvest. The ACCS Membership Enquiry Program, launched at Cereals, will allow buyers limited access to the ACCS member database, held by UKFQC.
The organisers deny that they will be foregoing customer confidentiality, however. UKFQC director Tim Hughes explains: "A buyer can access the system through the internet. He can then make an enquiry about a specific member using their membership number. The system will return the corresponding business name, postcode and member status, which is updated weekly."
The cost to subscribers is £95 a piece for the software, an exclusive access number and ACC membership status. But isnt it all a bit like Big Brothers watching you, and surely its no benefit for ACCS members? Mr Hughes is quick to retaliate: "All we are doing is making it easier for the market to source ACCS grain, and that must be of benefit to members."
Home-saved seed assurance
An assurance scheme to cover farm-saved seed has been launched by the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC). The Verified Seed Scheme has been set up in order to ensure that NAAC mobile seed processing companies can produce dressed seed which meets requirements of ACCS and other assurance schemes.
Launching the scheme, NFU president Ben Gill said: "It provides another link in the chain that can give us greater credibility in consumers eyes in Britain and around the world."
About 80% farm-saved seed will be covered by the scheme, which will be independently verified by UKFQC. Operators will be required to show on request their NPTC certificate of competence and demonstrate that the machine and procedures comply with the relevant legislation. Farmers will receive documentary evidence to support this, with the operators name and NPTC number shown for their own ACCS records.
Mike Pearce, NAAC seed processing section chairman, is very upbeat about prospects for the sector. "We believe the percentage of farm-saved seed will increase due to this scheme being set up. It states clear evidence to the farmer that our industry is staffed by people who are highly competent and thorough. We are very aware of deficiencies of other sectors of the industry. The standard set by certified seed is much lower."
Seeds manager for SCATS Agriseeds, David Buttle, strongly repudiates any claim that their standards are lower than those for farm-saved seed. "Our seed is traceable from breeders seed through all generations to the farm it goes to. Qualified, licensed seed inspectors carry out two inspections of all of our seed growers fields prior to harvest to ensure standards are being maintained. Samples are taken after treatment to ensure correct dosage at the plant. Farm-saved seed has a long way to go before it comes up to our standards."