Chris Bennett: Too much ‘mission creep’ at Red Tractor

We recently returned from visiting family in New Zealand, where I tried to explain to my father-in-law about Red Tractor.

His comment was: “If they introduced anything like that here, farmers would be protesting up and down the country.”

If Red Tractor was introduced from scratch in its current form in the UK, we’d probably be protesting, too.

See also: Chris Bennett – knowledge from beyond agriculture is an asset

About the author

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett has a degree in physics and a graduate diploma in agriculture. He farmed in Wakanui on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand before returning in 2022 to the arable and beef farm he grew up on near Louth in Lincolnshire.
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Having been formed in response to a crisis of confidence sparked by food scares, Red Tractor’s scope now stretches far beyond food safety.

All facets of the farming business are inspected and mostly have no relation to its original aim.

In a post-Brexit world, with our food coming from increasingly distant lands, having assured British food may again be of value during a food scare. But we need to ask what we would like farm assurance to look like.

There is without question too big a focus on paperwork.

The required documents fit into three categories – documents that are legal requirements, documents that are only ever looked at on the week of an inspection, and documents that any good farmer should be producing anyway.

You could argue that a check-up shouldn’t involve paperwork at all and should only focus on what is observed around the farm.

Furthermore, I’d like to see the frequency of inspections linked to past performance.

If you run a farm with multiple non-conformances every year, you should be checked up on much more often than a farm that always passes easily.

It would also be good to see a food assurance payment through the Sustainable Farming Incentive to compensate for the time and money spent implementing the scheme.

Having safe, high-quality food is a public good that could be funded in a similar way to the Health and Welfare Review.

Most of all, Red Tractor needs to decide what it wants to be. If it wants to push standards as high as possible, it needs to attract a much larger premium and shouldn’t try to include everyone.

If it wants to be a catch-all to implement minimum legal standards for everybody, I don’t think farmers should have to pay for it.