Its aim is to be the most recognisable logo on British food and a symbol of the high quality, welfare and environmental standards the food was produced under.
More than a decade after it was launched, some 78,000 farmers are now signed up to Assured Food Standard’s Red Tractor accreditation scheme, with the red, white and blue tractor logo appearing on more than £12bn-worth of British food.
And while it has come under fire for how much consumers understand about it, for many farmers the accreditation is an invaluable asset to their business.
Alastair Butler, who farms a 2,000-sow outdoor breeding herd with his family in Suffolk, says the Red Tractor logo scheme is vital, as it provides assurance across his whole supply chain, from farm to processor.
“We use the Red Tractor logo a huge amount because it allows us to show we are fully audited,” says Mr Butler, who sells his pigs under the Blythburgh free-range pork brand.
“It proves we have certain welfare standards and we are traceable – huge criteria that makes being assured beneficial.
“The larger the organisation you are supplying the more useful it is,” he adds. “Large retailers want all the accreditation and that’s where it comes into play.”
The accreditation has proven especially beneficial to the Butler family this year, as all the food being served in London for the Olympics has to be Red Tractor certified, creating a new market for them.
“That’s a huge deal and a fantastic coup for the scheme,” says Mr Butler. “Supply chains have been opened up as caterers and retailers have to supply Red Tractor pork, whereas in the past they might have been importing Spanish hams.
“Many buyers and the majority of multiple retailers don’t want us without it.”
“We are supplying hams and other products for the athletes’ village. There’s no guarantee those contracts will stay, but once the supply chain has opened up, it’s got a good chance.”
Andrew Blenkiron, manager of the Euston Estate in Suffolk, says the accreditation has assisted him in running the 6,500-acre farm, especially its 100-head Red Poll herd.
“One thing I’ve found useful is the audit process, which makes sure we are ready for cross compliance,” he says.
“Everything we need for Red Tractor has been required by the RPA, such as making sure movement and vet records and cattle tags are up to date. It’s a reminder to check things are correct.”
The Red Tractor standards have also helped with the day-to-day management of the farm’s herd health plan.
“It gives us discipline for following the plan and we review it on an annual basis, which helps us to see if we are doing things right.
“The accreditation has also allowed us access to wider markets,” he adds. “Many buyers and the majority of multiple retailers don’t want us without it.
“I can justify the cost of running the scheme, which is about £130 a year, because we more than get it back in financial terms from customers to compensate.”
And despite the criticism, Mr Blenkiron says shoppers are beginning to show a better understanding of what the Red Tractor logo signifies.
“We have assurance posters on the farm and when we host farm walks and visits we talk about it. I have done quite a lot with the NFU in helping promote Red Tractor at the Good Food Show, and I have been encouraged over the past few years by how many people recognise it.
“They might not know exactly what the accreditation entails, but they know the logo means it’s British and has high welfare and environmental standards, which is what it’s about for me.”
Red Tractor is producing and giving away farmgate signs to its dairy, beef, lamb and pig and poultry members. These will be available to collect/order from the Red Tractor stand (BM-210) at Livestock 2012.
Making the most of your farm assurance
Being proactive in telling people you are Red Tractor accredited will help you get the most from being farm assured, says Philippa Wiltshire, Red Tractor sector manager.
“The most important thing is to tell customers about it – from local butchers to abattoirs and buyers.
“Don’t assume people know that you’re assured – put assurance stickers on your delivery paperwork to really let people know.”
Mrs Wiltshire says Assured Food Standards has rebranded its Red Tractor logo to enable farmers to promote their accreditation to their local communities.
“We changed the assurance schemes to include the Red Tractor logo which can be used on farm signs or on stationary.
“It makes it easier for consumers to make the link between the logo on the food and the farm. Farmers are proud they are accredited and this allows them to promote it.”
For more news, features and details of Livestock 2012 see our dedicated page.