Farmer Focus Arable: New Zealand trip leaves Andrew Charlton ruing retailer trading rules

A very relaxing and enjoyable trip to sunny New Zealand to spend the holidays with my son has left me fired up for the challenges of another farming year, albeit more than a little envious of farmers over there who produce for a demanding market without the brutality of trading imposed by UK supermarkets.

Back in the slush and mud my efforts are concentrated on the annual inspection taking place here on 28th January. Years ago I worked in a job outside farming when it was drilled into me that the purpose of any quality system was: “Do we know what our customers want?” and “How good are we at giving it to them?”

These two questions ask precise and simple definitions of quality unlike the Assured Food Standards, the body behind the Red Tractor logo. I’d always taken a fairly dim view of AFS until I heard a radio interview with a university professor during our financial crisis demanding bankers should be “strung up from lampposts” for the meltdown in financial markets due to their industry’s breakdown of regulation. For us at least no-one is going to make similar demands of farmers as the chance of getting away with anything in our heavily regulated industry is nil.

It’s a pity our obsession with regulatory compliance is at the expense of developing real quality systems in farming. I feel that because of mistrust triggered by the huge pressure on margins our extremely powerful end customers apply we often don’t have enough good knowledge of what our customers want, and how we can measure how well we achieve it. Perhaps the Tory pledge of a supermarket ombudsman may help deliver a food chain fit for purpose and focussed on quality and serving the consumer? Or maybe I’m still suffering from jet lag.

• For more columns from Andrew Charlton

• For more columns from other Arable Farmer Focus writers

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