6 December 1996

UK-wide grain scheme given approving nod

Arable farmers were given plenty to think about at the Crops conference – Winning on World Markets. The NFU chose the occasion to launch its proposals for a grain assurance scheme for England and Wales.

Robert Harris reports.

UP to 12,000 growers of combineable crops will be providing quality-assured grain by harvest 1998. Others will follow to form a UK-wide scheme within a few years.

That is what Peter Limb, chairman of the NFU national cereals committee, told delegates as he unveiled plans for an industry-wide cereals assurance scheme for England and Wales at the Crops conference held at St Ives, Cambs, this week (see Business).

It aimed to assure customers that the produce they bought off farm was produced, handled, stored and delivered to comply with existing codes of practice and to a generally accepted environmental standard, he explained.

It could not offer traceability – that was impossible with bulk commodities, he emphasised.

He hoped the scheme would be in place next harvest, and he expected it would recruit a third of serious cereal growers by 1998.

"It is a daunting task. But it must be done if we are to have a credible and meaningful scheme," he said. He predicted that 70-80% of grain from England and Wales would be included a few years.

Many potential members had little to fear, he believed. "They are already producing crops to the necessary standards." But the scheme would place a formal standard on record keeping and to meet the needs of existing acts and codes of practice.

Although it would not enforce specific environmental regulations, farmers had to be aware of the impact of their activities and manage accordingly.

Once independent auditing started, Mr Limb believed costs would be pitched between the Scottish Quality Cereals scheme, at £170 a year, and the Dairy Inspection Scheme which inspected once every three years costing £30 a year.

He hoped it would become a UK-wide scheme, incorporating Scotland and Northern Ireland in the next few years.

David Jack, chairman of Scottish Quality Cereals, welcomed the proposals. "If the protocols they agree are no less than ours, then I would be happy to merge into a national scheme."

The only sticking point was the fact that the NFU proposed to start with self-auditing rather than independent checks, mainly due to cost. Mr Jack thought the trade could help offset costs further.

The new farm assurance scheme will ensure grain is produced, stored and trucked to agreed standards, says NFU committee member Peter Limb.


GRAIN ASSURANCE


&#8226 Scheme for England and Wales.

&#8226 To ensure grain produced with due regard to codes and environment.

&#8226 Formal standards of record keeping, storage, transport.

&#8226 Start next harvest.

&#8226 12,000 growers by 1998, 70-80% within a few years.

&#8226 UK-wide scheme eventual aim.


REASONS FOR SCHEME


&#8226 To show that combineable crop production meets needs of Food Safety Act and other codes.

&#8226 To satisfy demand from supermarkets for such assurances.

&#8226 Direct result of BSE crisis to avoid similar scare.

&#8226 To satisfy feed requirements of livestock assurance schemes.

&#8226 To tackle growing concern over genetically-modified organisms and their identification.