Archive Article: 1997/07/19

19 July 1997

A FEW cereal growers somewhere will find it a doddle to comply with the planned assurance scheme.

They almost certainly arent farming 1,200ha (3,000 acres) on seven sites, or drying grain for neighbours.

Richard Beldam, who is based at East Lodge Farm, near Broadway, is "seriously supportive" of the scheme objectives but his first reading of the outline requirements left a number of doubts.

Members of the Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives joined him in his on-floor grain store in an attempt to demystify the draft requirements.

David Cranstoun, of the Scottish Agricultural College, and one of the prime movers behind the similar Scottish Quality Cereals, gave his interpretation of what might – on paper – appear to be formidable rules for many growers.

"We have to have this scheme, and I have no doubt whatsoever that food safety and all that it entails is here and wont go away, and we have to comply with it," said Mr Beldam.

His main concern was that farmers would embrace the scheme but the next link in the chain – merchants – would not do so wholeheartedly.

His own business would fail an immediate audit by one of the independent assessors who will underpin the assurance scheme, but he expected to be able to correct that.

"In this barn, I have unprotected glass light fittings but in two others they are protected. They will all be done by the time I get to the application stage," he told his visitors.

More pressing, however, was his concern about being able to continue drying and storing grain for other people who might not be in the scheme when he wanted to join.

Mr Cranstoun said the Scottish scheme was about upgrading to certain standards and applicants were given time to meet new requirements. "The number of people being shown the door is very low indeed," he added.

Asked by Mr Beldam for an interpretation of the record keeping requirements in the Assured Crops proposals, Mr Cranstoun suggested the farm diary kept by most growers, should be acceptable as evidence of routine tasks such as cleaning and servicing grain storage and equipment.

Systems for keeping other records of disease incidence or spraying would vary from farm to farm but any good system should be acceptable – not necessarily a record book geared only to the scheme. "The purpose behind that standard is to justify when an application is necessary. With a spray record you give a reason for spraying."

Mr Cranstoun warned that under SQC a grower making their own fertiliser or spray decisions without outside advice might be tested for competence on disease recognition or asked to justify rates of fertiliser applied.

SQC also recommends, but doesnt insist, that operators with a grandfather consent to spray should at least have some spray training.

Mr Beldam queried whether he might have to keep labels from every bag of seed used on the farm, but Mr Cranstoun said the main requirement from a maltster or other end user, was to know the variety and its stock number. Invoices showing the stock number of seed lots, together with records of the fields drilled, were sufficient.

A further questionmark arose for Mr Beldam over the requirement for soil and nutrient analyses to be carried out. His soils were very stable and he saw no need for expensive annual sampling.

Mr Cranstoun said under SQC evidence, sampling was needed only every four or five years. However, there were growers who only checked their soils every 10 years or so.

"One of the aims of schemes like these is to provide processors and the general public with the assurance that East Lodge Farm is being farmed in an assured and sensible way," he added.

However, he was less compromising over grain store hygiene for which Mr Beldam preferred his existing system, of one spray for all in-store surfaces, rather than adjusting rate and dosage to suit either wood, steel or concrete. The last thing processors wanted was to import someone elses pests into their own stores.

To reassure customers his pest control worked, Mr Beldam should use bait boxes to verify his stores were clear.

Mr Cranstoun said it wasnt necessary to keep grain from different fields separate but there should be some form of separation for varieties and records kept.

When Mr Beldam made it clear he would not be prepared to employ outside contractors for items such as grain store maintenance he could carry out himself, Mr Cranstoun was again flexible.

"If someone can show they are doing a good job, they dont have to pay a consultant to come in and do it."

However he would expect items such as grain moisture meters to be calibrated and checked against a verifiable standard. Not just, as sometimes happened, against other potentially faulty meters on the same farm.

Difficulties with grain storage provided the most causes for non-compliance with SQC requirements, said Mr Cranstoun, but he cautioned against being over strict in the first year of the scheme.

He suggested the draft proposals might need to appear less onerous if growers in England and Wales were not to be put off the new scheme in its early stages.

Mr Beldam agreed that commonsense interpretation would convince growers like him they were already meeting most of the schemes likely requirements.

He was, however, concerned at the implications of scheme members being asked to follow environmental best practice as exemplified by the LEAF organisation.

"I would be very concerned if I felt this scheme was being hijacked or misdirected by an external agency having input into it," said Mr Beldam.

The Assured Combinable Crops scheme is getting a mixed reaction. Crops Conference speaker Richard Beldam allayed his reservations by inviting leading supporters of QA on to his Worcestershire farm.

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