Red Tractor review: Early findings rule processes ‘largely sound’

Early findings of an independent review of Red Tractor governance reveal that the organisation’s processes and documentation in place are “largely sound”.

Since the end of November, consultancy firm Campbell Tickell has been undertaking a review of Red Tractor governance, which is looking at how it operates, the effectiveness of its structure and decision-making process, and how new standards are developed.

Known as Review 1, it is the first of two critical reviews that were announced after NFU council’s meeting last October.

See also: Independence of Red Tractor review under threat

It comes after Red Tractor announced plans for an add-on environment module to its assurance schemes, known as the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC), which sparked a barrage of criticism from farmers and growers saying it would see the farm assurance scheme moving away from its core principles.

Controversial plans for the GFC have been put on hold until the completion of the NFU-commissioned independent review of the organisation’s governance.

Review 2 has an industry-wide remit. It will seek feedback from farmers and growers about all farm assurance schemes with a view to revolutionising farm-to-fork assurance and making it truly fit for the future.

NFU council updated

NFU council received an update from the review of Red Tractor governance by Campbell Tickell on Monday 22 January.

This included details of the review methodology and the interview process, including the theme of questions, how interviewees feel Red Tractor governance currently operates across the various structures of the organisation, and an examination of current documents and procedures.

The NFU has published a lengthy statement on its website summarising the early findings of the Red Tractor governance review.

It said: “Work to date has identified there is much agreement that UK food assurance has a vital continuing role, while there are questions around how exactly the role of farm assurance should be defined in today’s more challenging environment. 

“The review has also found that the processes and documentation in place are largely sound.

“The consultants also indicated to NFU council that they have been made very aware of the heated debate around the topic and had heard opposing accounts of the process that was followed from respondents.

“In terms of the governance review, this in turn goes back to questions of trust, communication and understanding of how each part of the Red Tractor structure is intended to function, all of which require urgent attention.

“Council also heard from Campbell Tickell that the reviews into Red Tractor were a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild trust and relevance.” 

Recommendations from the second review will be outlined in a final report by Campbell Tickell, due to be delivered in late February.

The NFU said plans for Review 2 are being finalised and more information will be published in the coming days.

Farmer reaction

Initial reaction on social media has been mixed, though many farmers considered the NFU update to be a “whitewash”.

“What is the point in an update that has nothing to tell?” asked Anthony Wiseman of AWT Farm Services on X, (formerly known as Twitter). “The NFU have forgotten how to talk with their members, it’s all corporate rubbish.”

@DavidRenner0000 suggested the NFU was “forced to do something” because of farmers’ fury over the likely imposition of the Greener Farms Commitment.

“This review has asked exactly the wrong people the wrong questions at the wrong time,” he suggested on X.

But NFU member and Farmers Weekly columnist Joe Stanley was quick to point out that the report was an Interim update, with the full governance review due in mid-February.

“So far Campbell Tickell believe that Red Tractor have most of the appropriate structures in place for appropriate governance.

“That’s not saying the governance has been appropriate,” he said on X.