We have all had the dreaded phone call that begins: “It’s time for your annual Farm Quality Assurance inspection. May I make an appointment to see you, Sir?”
The Red Tractor scheme has been one of the big success stories of farming in recent years and I have had nothing but good experiences with the inspectors.
But, combine this with all the other inspections we are subjected to (the RPA, Trading Standards, the Environmental Agency, to name but three) and it begs a bigger question: Do we need to be checked quite so much?
See also: In praise of the mixed farm
Here are 10 ideas to ease you through the inspection minefield:
1. The telephone call
When the inspector rings to book an appointment, don’t make out you’re really busy and rushed off your feet. Even if you are, they will see through your ruse and view it as a pathetic excuse for not being ready for the visit.
Be cool, calm and collected, as if a long-lost cousin had rung to inquire if they could drop in for a cup of tea. Don’t give your inspector directions to your farm, either, as this could annoy them – some are military types who will have the route already planned with a precise grid reference.
2. The greeting
Make sure that when your inspector arrives, the spot where they park is neatly stoned up, so they can step from their car and change from shoes to wellies without getting themselves up to the eyeballs in muck.
Male inspectors are normally neat and tidy chaps, the sort who fold their trousers before they go to bed. As you greet them, be polite and quickly find out about their hobbies and interests as this may prove useful later on in the visit.
3. Don’t be flash
Most of us have worked very long hours and invested blood, sweat and tears to gain some of our possessions, but it is not a good idea to have your new BMW or Range Rover parked outside the house.
Park the battered farm pick-up there instead. Don’t forget the “hard-up” farmer routine works: you want these people to feel sorry for you, not envious of you.
4. The yard inspection
I won’t try to teach you how to suck eggs, but tidiness is paramount – so find a couple of hours to put things in their place. This might mean resorting to cramming everything out of sight (my wife takes a similar approach ahead of anyone visiting the house by cramming everything under the stairs).
5. The livestock
Chances are, when you open the grain store doors, there will be a mouse running along the rafter in front of you. Or, when you are looking at your “fine” flock of sheep, a lame one will hobble across your path.
This is one of the moments when you must divert your inspector’s attention. The time you invested in finding out about their interests earlier could pay real dividends at this point.
6. The spray shed
Obviously, when you walk into the spray shed, the warning signs must be correctly displayed on the walls. For example, your Emergency Action Plan must be a properly printed document, not a handwritten piece of paper suggesting:
“In the event of an emergency, run like hell!” Similarly, your bucket of sand, to be used for chemical spills, must not show any signs of being used by the farm cats as a toilet for the previous two years.
7. The risk assessment
Don’t forget to do every risk assessment you can think of. Some are necessary, some aren’t – but the way it’s going, I think we will need a risk assessment to use the farm lavatory soon.
I suppose a loose tile could fall off the roof? Or what about the slip/trip risk of a tiled floor? Then there’s the possibility of snakes swimming up through the plumbing.
8. Under the influence
We all leave stuff until the last minute as we are busy actually running the farm. Even though you will have important dates about medicine and spray usage in your diary, you will need to transfer this into the Farm Assurance Scheme record book.
Whatever you do, don’t have too many glasses of wine while transferring these records late at night, or your handwriting might prove indecipherable.
A good cup of tea is always paramount for your inspector. Offering bacon sandwiches or cup cakes is perhaps going over the top, although my wife did put her “Bake Off” skills into practice last time we had a RPA visit.
Just make sure the cup of tea isn’t like the ones you make in your flask before embarking on a 12-hour stint on a tractor but forgot to rinse the Fairy Liquid out of the bottom first.
10. Saying goodbye
If you need to finish the visit quickly, prime someone to phone you alerting you to an “emergency”. Just make sure your excuse to exit is believable. For instance, “the bull has got out and is heading for the local golf course” should be avoided if you don’t live near a golf course and/or don’t own cattle.
I reckon one to try is: “Sorry Mr/Mrs Inspector, I must crack on – I’m doing a speech at my local NFU meeting tonight. It’s about white-collar farming and red tape, and I haven’t finished my script yet…”
James Read farms sheep and arable crops on 400ha on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds at Louth. He and his wife, Sally, have a young son, Tom. You can find James, who also trains and trials sheepdogs, on Twitter at @jimreadfarmer