Farmer Focus: Assurance is like a circus but without the fun

Just what are we assuring? Jobs for inspectors? It seems so at the moment.

In the second week of January, I endured five inspections – three arable, a quarterly pig inspection by the vet, and a pig assurance audit.

Next week, we have another pig audit for good old Red Tractor. That’s three people looking at the same pigs, in the same sheds and scrutinising the same paperwork, all within a fortnight.

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About the author

Andrew Wilson
Arable Farmer Focus writer Andrew Wilson is a fourth-generation tenant of Castle Howard Estate in North Yorkshire. The farm supports crops of wheat, barley, oats, beans, sugar beet, potatoes, and grass for hay across 250ha. Other enterprises include bed and breakfast pigs, environmental stewardship, rooftop solar and contracting work.  
Read more articles by Andrew Wilson

My role in our business is to extract value from every cost placed upon it, be that a gallon of diesel, a bag of seed, or time spent on inspections.

I’m really struggling to see what the pig assurance brings to the party that a trained, experienced vet might miss on their quarterly inspections.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important that things get looked at. Vets are practical people: pigs first, paperwork second (as it should be) and I usually learn something during the walk round.

We have three additional pig assurance audits for different customers. All look at the same things as the vet, all cost me time and hassle. Where is the extra value in this?

To me, the quarterly vet audits carry by far the greatest value, and surely ought to be sufficient to assure our consumers that we are doing our job correctly.

As Red Tractor introduces the “new standard”, I’m thinking that with all these hoops to jump through, I might as well diversify and open a circus.

Red 2 mass balance and the impractical nonsense of Farming Rules for Water are just two of the latest headaches we must contend with.

We’re bottom of the ladder, and as such we have nowhere to pass on the ever-increasing costs and pressure.

We take responsibility for a disproportionate length of the food chain, for a reward that’s way out of kilter with the costs and risks involved.

UK farmers have the highest standards in the world, and must abide by Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency rules, employment law, trading standards, etc.

Make no mistake, I have no issue with the principle of assurance, but duplicate inspections, constant gold-plating, pointless policy and records for everything imaginable creates stress and unnecessary cost.

If imports didn’t undermine our standards and there was a Red Tractor premium to offset the costs, I might start to see some value, but currently it needs a microscope to find.

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