26 February 1999

SIGNED UP RELUCTANTLY

AN Essex cereal and bean grower who turned down the chance to join the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme last year has reluctantly accepted the need to join in the second wave.

"I did not want to join in the first wave because when the scheme was launched I felt it was too daunting, a foreboding prospect, and not very farmer-friendly," says Robin Lee, who farms 273ha (675 acres) of combinable crops on chalky boulder clay for the White House Farms Partnership at Little Sampford near Saffron Walden.

No advantage

"But over the past 12 months I have come to accept that to be able to market my grain in future I had to jump on the same bandwagon as everyone else. I have done this reluctantly because it is quite clear there is absolutely no advantage from being registered. But there is a major disadvantage if I am left outside the scheme with unsold grain on my hands."

Mr Lee accepts that it is important for farmers to prove to consumers that food raw materials leaving farms have been produced responsibly.

No longer is it good enough to simply produce safe food – farmers must show the public it is safe to eat too, he says.

Mr Lee applied to join the scheme just before Christmas and had a visit from local verifier Duncan Howlett in early January.

"Our chemical store and record keeping were considered strong points. But I slipped up by not keeping a note of the wind direction when spraying. I keep meticulous records which date back years of all the servicing and maintenance work involving the farms sprayer, but I failed to jot down in my diary the date when it was cleaned out."

In anticipation of joining the scheme he bought a temperature probe and insect traps for the grain store last summer.

Unacceptable lights

A few months prior to the verification visit new bulkhead lights with a protective grill were installed in the grain store at a cost of £250 plus fitting. Despite the fact that they would have to be hit hard with a hammer to break they are not acceptable under the scheme, so will have to be replaced.

Other minor points needing rectification were:

&#8226 He did not have his crop advisers BASIS number;

&#8226 He had not itemised fertiliser application rates for each field, although rodent control measures were in place and Mr Lee had complied with the store hygiene requirements, he was unable to provide the date the work was done;

&#8226 Dates when the combine and grain trailers were cleaned out were also unavailable;

&#8226 Insect control in the store was satisfactory, but a baiting system will have to be installed before it is filled with grain again;

&#8226 Samples are not taken of grain coming in to store, or leaving the farm, but the verifier noted that all lorries arriving to collect grain are inspected to see if they are clean before being allowed to load.

Problems anticipated

"I failed on a lot of peanut points, but I had anticipated many more problems than actually materialised."

Mr Lee is confident he will soon be registered. "The whole business has been a lot less painful than I anticipated."

But he is critical of the need for so many different quality assurance schemes. "We are all food producers and it seems elementary common sense to harmonise them into a single industry-wide scheme," he says. &#42