Farmer Focus: Let’s shake up food standards

The latest break in the weather has allowed lots of crops to be drilled into quite good conditions.

Some crops have certainly grown away from a potential problem this year: OSR is romping along in the surprising absence of cabbage stem flea beetle. But as it’s still warm, we’re on constant look-out for aphids. Can we get through without a barley yellow dwarf virus spray this year?

Once again, we’re reminded that as various products are removed from our toolbox, we’re trying to compete with other food-producing nations on an uneven playing surface.

See also: Devon farmer’s low-cost way to drill high-yielding cereals

As our NSF farm assurance inspection looms, I, like many, find myself questioning the whole issue: what’s the point of superior standards if we’re the only ones sticking to them?

We’re continually hauled over the coals with new minutiae that frankly seem to serve little or no purpose except to trip us up and provide an army of inspectors with another reason to prosper.

I know that the supply chain values traceability from the comfort blanket of farm assurance, in its ever-changing game of “don’t blame me”, but the crux of the problem is that there is no added value in the process – just cost to farmers.

UK farming has spent nearly 20 years trying to make a virtue of its higher standards. You could argue that the communication of these standards to the consumer hasn’t always been joined up and mixed messages have filtered on to the supermarket shelves.

But to find the champion of our Red Tractor standards, Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, capitulating when it really counted, by not supporting the recent Agriculture Bill amendments, is beyond the pale.

With the appointment of a new chair at Red Tractor, a clean sweep can begin. Let’s shake up the whole issue of food standards.

All sides of the UK industry agree there should be a real value to food production standards, but why have so many different versions? The job’s hard enough without duplicating the red tape and packaging it in different ways to suit different organisations.

What the Red Tractor logo really needs is respect. Not just from producers, but supply chain, retailers and customers. Only then might there be a value lift towards the higher ground.

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