Increasing demands for sustainable environmental management, food traceability and a growing awareness by society of agricultural practices means there are challenging times ahead for contractors.
Recognising this, the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC), through its Assured Land-Based Contractor Scheme, is continuing to make big efforts to ensure contractors are able to comply both with the demands of modern agriculture and also provide independent evidence of their ability to provide a professional and responsible service.
Presented in a modular format, there are four sectors: Mobile feed and mixing, farm-processed seed, agricultural waste, and the agricultural operations scheme.
It was the seed treatment and mobile feed and mixing operations that provided the spur for the introduction of the assurance scheme. Both services needed a high degree of quality control and traceability and, while most contractors strived to produce the required standards in the face of competition from large companies, it was important for customers to have the confidence to use these services.
Further weight has recently been given to the mobile feed and mixing assurance scheme following its recognition by the UK Accreditation Service.
To become an assured operator requires a contractor to pass an initial assessment visit from independent assessors and annual inspections. These inspections include examination of product, the production process and assessment of the quality management system.
Similarly, to become a NAAC Land-Based Contractor (Verified Seed) also requires a thorough, third-party assessment of a farm-produced seed service and annual inspections to ensure high standards are maintained.
Both mobile feed and seed processor contractors are also required to be assessed against the NAAC’s Assured Land-Base Contractor (Generic) standard before they can receive certification.
Yet to make any significant impact is the Agricultural Waste Collection Scheme, which aims to establish an independently audited quality standard for agricultural waste collection contractors. This, it is hoped, will promote a traceable route between waste producer, waste collection contractor and the next point of process – landfill, recycling, and so on.
This scheme has yet to be universally adopted as there is, according to the NAAC, still not sufficient compliance or understanding by waste producers and there is still a high element of “cowboy” collections and disposals.
The Agricultural Operations Scheme has had greater success. It has a much broader base and is aimed at all contractors, whatever range of services they may be offering – although, as yet, it does not include slurry and bio-solids application.
It provides an independent audit of things such as health and safety, vehicle and performance maintenance, staff training, workshop, office procedures, insurance – in fact, all the factors that can affect the ability of a contracting business to offer a professional and competent service.
Not only do these procedures have to be passed as being suitable, they have to be audited every year to ensure they remain so. Faults are given a time period during which they have to be corrected.
Becoming an Assured Land-Based Contractor (Agricultural Operations) does have a cost, as do all the other modules. An initial site inspection costs about £400 and there are other charges if there are additional sites to visit and also if the enterprises include crop spraying. NAAC members score with a £150 discount.
Most contractors will see the benefits of having a business with an assured status and, as the scheme is adopted by an ever-larger number, it is likely to become an essential part of every contractor’s business management.
Assurance in action
DORSET AND DERBYSHIRE
Jim Farquarson runs a mobile feed mill and mix business out of Blandford Forum, Dorset, covering the southern counties with four machines. In the assurance scheme for several years, it now plays an essential part in the running of his business.
“With ever-greater demands by livestock farmers to provide assured produce, the ability to prove our own credentials as an assured operator certainly helps attract new customers,” he says. “Without having the means to prove we can offer a high standard of feeds – a standard that is independently audited – I think our business could struggle.”
Another Dorset contractor, Mike Simpson, offers a broad range of services including cultivations, drilling, fertiliser spreading, maize, and whole-farm contracting.
The assurance scheme is something he is just embarking on and he has yet to be enrolled and audited.”I’ve been thinking about becoming assured for some time,” he says. “I think it will not only raise the profile of my business but allow me to work for larger farming companies who need to be absolutely sure that they are using a person who has the ability to do the work properly and to a standard they expect.”
Martin Hays operates his contracting business out of Chesterfield, Derbyshire and majors in slurry spreading and fertiliser application along with a range of other more general services.
One of the first contractors to achieve assured status, he considers it provides independent proof of his ability to do jobs properly.”It’s an annual ‘MOT’ for the business,” he says. “And it also gives me peace of mind that everything we do is correct – the certificates for the operators, the fire extinguisher in the workshop and even the first-aid tin in the tractors.
“Like Mr Simpson, Mr Hays says being assured gives his business access to larger farms and landscaping companies who themselves have the need to be assured.