Farm assurance body Red Tractor has put its controversial plans for a new Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) on hold, pending an NFU-commissioned review of the organisation’s governance.
The voluntary GFC module is supposed to come into effect next April, providing a framework for farmers to share the environmental actions they are taking, so that retailers can demonstrate the sustainability of their supply chains.
But news of the plans in early October triggered an outcry from farmers, worried that the module would become compulsory, and angry that Red Tractor was offering such information to retailers for free.
The NFU has also been critical of the way the decision to introduce the new GFC was taken, in cahoots with the British Retail Consortium and with insufficient input from farmer representatives.
Last week the union announced two reviews of Red Tractor – the first looking at the assurance body’s governance (due in January 2024), and the second taking a broader look at the relevance and value of farm assurance schemes.
“It’s time for that to happen, so we can look at what works and what doesn’t,” said NFU president Minette Batters.
Put on hold
Red Tractor’s main board has now had time to consider its position, and confirmed that it will “not progress with the implementation of any new standards or additional modules until the first NFU independent review, focusing on Red Tractor governance, is completed”.
Chairwoman Christine Tacon added: “As the team has been working on the detail of the Greener Farms Commitment, the strength of feeling from farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has become clear to everyone.
“It has been a difficult period, which has brought forward frustration from farmers that runs deeper than just our proposals for an environment module.
“We recognise that and have decided that the NFU’s independent review of Red Tractor governance must come first.
“There will be no decisions on the implementation or timing of the GFC, or on other changes to existing Red Tractor standards, until that NFU review is complete.”
Any continued work on an environment module would need to include more detailed dialogue with farmers and supply chains, and consider relevant government policy on agriculture for all UK nations, added Ms Tacon, who apologised for failing to take the views of farmers fully into account thus far.