Exclusive: NFU Council motion calls for review of Red Tractor governance

NFU Council representatives have passed a motion calling for an independent review of governance at Red Tractor after it launched a “bolt-on” environmental module to its existing farm assurance schemes.

Red Tractor’s Greener Farm Commitment (GFC), although voluntary for now, will ask farmers to provide information upfront on their carbon footprint, raising fears this information will be passed to retailers free of charge and be used by them to offset their carbon footprints.

The UK’s biggest farm assurance provider plans to launch the GFC from 1 April 2024, insisting it is designed to show farmers are caring for the environment – by delivering improvements in their carbon footprint, biodiversity, nutrient management, soils and waste control.

See also: Red Tractor’s new environmental ‘bolt-on’ plan criticised

Red Tractor says the GFC will be run on a voluntary basis, but farmer representatives on NFU Council are very concerned the scheme is going to be implemented by stealth and will become a compulsory part of its core standards, without any premiums on offer.

NFU Council held an unprecedented three-hour debate behind closed doors about the GFC and Red Tractor governance at the union’s headquarters in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, on Monday (16 October).

This was in response to a resolution from the Midlands (Transitional) Region board seeking an independent review of Red Tractor governance and a pause in the implementation of new standards and bolt-ons.

‘Heated and passionate’

Insiders told Farmers Weekly the debate was “heated and passionate” and involved frank exchanges of views between senior NFU officials, including top table officeholders.

NFU Council members questioned the governance of how the GFC was allowed to get to such an advanced launch stage without farmer and technical overview – and without any reward for what could be given away by farmers in the name of Red Tractor.

The scheme was thought up during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and was designed by retailers and the Assured Food Standards board, the company that manages and promotes Red Tractor, bypassing farmer engagement and technical committee overview.

Farmers ‘taken over by auditors’

An NFU source said: “Council members from the floor would have been very satisfied that the top table were made to listen to their concerns about Red Tractor in a very passionate afternoon of debate.

“The claim is the Greener Farms Commitment is voluntary, but everybody knows Red Tractor has a habit of rubberstamping everything. We are being taken over, as farmers, by auditors and we are providing all this audit trail, which sits in offices and gathers dust.

“The biggest concern is the data grab of everything we are paying for. A lot of processors are asking us to get this info so that they can hand it to the retailers for free.

“We must ensure Red Tractor does not snatch this information, get it free of charge, to enable retailers to avoid paying their carbon taxes.

“That’s what it’s about. Carbon and environmental taxes coming down the line due to net-zero aspirations of government.”


In a statement after the council meeting had finished, NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said he recognised the achievements of Red Tractor since its creation in 2000, but questioned the process by which the GFC had been developed.

“We all accept that the roll-out of the GFC hasn’t been as any of us would have wished, but the issue is about procedures, not principles,” he said.

“We can and should work together to address those issues, get past this and move on for the benefit of farmers, growers, the wider supply chain and, crucially, consumers.”

Red Tractor response

A Red Tractor spokesperson said: “NFU Council have raised the importance of involving farmers in the continued development of Red Tractor’s environment module. We agree about how important this is, and that there are benefits for farmers, growers, and the wider supply chain, of a common industry approach.

“Work to this point included trials with 25 farms last year, for example. As the main Red Tractor board agreed last month, our existing Technical Advisory Committees and Sector Boards are meeting over coming weeks to provide their feedback on technical and practical considerations.

“But we recognise there is always more we can do to listen to farmers’ feedback and understand their point of view. The new Development Advisory Panel will meet for the first time next month and will have a critical role to ensure that the Greener Farms Commitment takes full account of the first-hand experience of farmers.”

The spokesperson added: “Red Tractor has been clear throughout that no data [from the GFC] will be passed from farmers to retailers.”