Farmer Focus: Online inspections – good, but time-consuming

In May we had our annual Red Tractor audit, but with a twist – it was all conducted remotely. 

I was given access to a web portal to which documents and data had to be uploaded in the lead-up to the audit.

Many hours were spent scanning documents, taking photographs and transferring data to populate all of the standard’s requirements.

See also: Red Tractor Q&A: How are coronavirus lockdown assessments working?

This was extremely time consuming, but I figured that the more thorough I was, the smoother the live video audit would go. I gather that other farmers had been given a steer by their assessor as to what specific information they wanted to see, but since I hadn’t, everything went on.

During the live video assessment, I was asked a few more detailed questions before heading off for a farm walk. My son, Tom, did a sterling job leading us to where the auditor asked to see.

The live audit took about 80 minutes, plus a follow-up call the next day to discuss any non-conformances; of which, I am happy to report, we had none.

Though time-consuming, I liked being able to upload documents to the portal prior to the “visit”, and I think that it could be continued if the process is streamlined.

Although the remote video audit worked seamlessly and was a great solution in unprecedented times, it’s certainly no long-term replacement for an auditor actually stepping on farm. 

Hopefully, once things return to “normal”, some farms will receive a quick follow-up farm check so the system’s integrity can be fully upheld.

We have just seen the fourth annual release of antibiotic usage data from the pig sector. It showed that 2019’s use was the same as 2018, at 110mg/kg, following three years of reductions; producing a 60% fall overall. 

Despite not seeing a drop in 2019, the results are still very positive given that last year saw a rise in the bacterial infection swine dysentery. 

So, without this outbreak there would have been further reductions. But farmers have done the right thing, working with vets to treat animals responsibly rather than compromise their welfare.

The pig sector is still aiming to reach its target of 99mg/kg this year, and new targets will be set for 2021-2024.

Sophie Hope is a Farmer Focus writer from near Cheltenham. Read her biography