17 April 2000
Quit crop scheme, farmers told

By Donald MacPhail

CEREAL growers are being urged to bring about the demise of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme by quitting en-masse and forming a new group.

Anti-assurance scheme campaigner Bob Robertson claims to have letters from “a sprinkling” of farmers who suggest “getting together and … resigning en bloc”.

Mr Robertson now wants to receive more letters in confidence from other farmers who are willing to form a new anti-assurance body:

“Farmers are reluctant to come forward because they are frightened they wont be able to sell their grain. They must get together and stand up and be counted.”

Supporters of ACCS claim the scheme gives UK customers and consumers absolute confidence in the quality of UK-grown produce.

But Mr Robertson said that it is anti-competitive and attempting to close markets to non-ACCS registered growers.

He hopes a significant number of ACCS-registered farmers will respond to his call, but was cagey about putting a figure on the number required.

Mr Robertson was also reluctant to give details of the proposed new group, other than to say it would be anti-farm assurance.

In February, he was dismissed as agriculture spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses after releasing a press statement without authorisation.

This was highly critical of Checkmate International, the company which runs the ACCS, and which may now bring a libel action against Mr Robertson.

In the same month the European Commission rejected claims from the Federation of Small Businesses that the ACCS was anti-competitive.

After the decision Mr Robertson said Brussels had left the door open for further action. He pledged to take his case to the Competition Commission.

The ACCS predicts that 11,000 cereal farmers responsible for 80% of the UKs marketed grain crop will sign up for the scheme this year.

About 60,000 cereal farmers still continue operate outside the ACCS. But a spokesman for the organisation declined to comment on Mr Robertsons plan.