No salvation in jingoism, marketing or logos

A recent Farmers Weekly poll asked: What do you think of Sainsbury’s ditching the Red Tractor logo?

Well, 69% of respondents were disgusted, 14% thought it was an absolutely splendid idea (well, they said they were right) and 17% had better things to be thinking about (ie they didn’t care).

That’s what they thought, but the question now occupying the chattering classes is: “What does Matthew Naylor think?” Well kick off those shoes, pour yourself a brandy, settle in your favourite chair and let me tell you.

I think that the Red Tractor is OK. If you push me, I might say that that the exhaust pipe is way out of proportion with the rest of the tractor but, generally, I’ve got nothing against the old girl.

Our farm has been Farm Assured since the standard first came out. I hate being inspected, of course I do, but this is a necessary part of operating a professional business – I take it like a man.

The standard has given British agriculture the kick up the jacksy that it needed. It has made us more self-critical. If you go back 20 years, there were some pretty careless operators out there. We have sorted that out now and this is almost exclusively down to farm assurance.

Our farm has now moved onto more rigorous standards like the LEAF Marque and Nurture, which open up better markets for us.

Farm assurance has laid the foundations for our present success. Support for British farmers is at an all-time high; public hatred has shifted to bankers instead. Agriculture is a credible career choice and Hunter wellies are in the fashion magazines. There are farming programmes on mainstream television. Supermarkets differentiate food on the basis of its regional origin and production methods. We have developed a food culture, for goodness sake.

Part of this is down to an economic cycle, I know, but it is also because we have proved that we are worthy of public trust. We have really got our act together.

As far as I am concerned, the task is complete. There are 79,000 farmers working to the standard now. It includes 95% of British poultry. This is as good as complete coverage. We should be very, very proud that the Red Tractor has moved from being a marketing scheme to a base standard.

I’ve met Debbie who does the PR for the Red Tractor Scheme a few times and she is absolutely lovely. The last thing that I want to do is to spoil her day, but it is now hard to claim that the standard offers a point of difference. It is entirely logical for Sainsbury’s to use the standard, but phase out the use of the logo. Don’t get me wrong, Sainsbury’s does horrible things. Sometimes it does them to me. On this occasion, however, its action is justified.

I am bored with farmers who complain that “shoppers should buy British”, or “what we need is a big PR campaign”. Only mediocre farmers say things like that. The public are behind us, but we can’t expect more money from them just because we have simply put the union flag on a packet. Consumers take decent animal welfare, decent hygiene and safe pesticide use for granted now and you have to choose to accept that or raise your game.

Consumers will buy British every time if the product and the price are right. It is now time for British farmers to focus their attention on being genuinely world class in terms of quality and efficiency, rather than looking for salvation through jingoism, marketing and logos.

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