Judge us on Red Tractor result, says incoming NFU president

Farm leader Tom Bradshaw has urged growers and livestock producers to “judge us on the outcome” of two reviews into the Red Tractor assurance scheme.

Building trust with farmers must be the absolute focus for Red Tractor if the scheme is to secure its future, said Mr Bradshaw – who is set to be elected unopposed as NFU president on 21 February at the union’s annual meeting in Birmingham.

The assurance scheme has been mired in controversy after it asked farmers to carbon-footprint their businesses under a planned Greener Farms Commitment (GFC).

Supporters say carbon-footprinting is vital for food retailers to meet their climate change commitments.

See also: Farmers to have their say on future of Red Tractor assurance

But critics argue that the GFC would saddle farmers with costs for little or no benefit – prompting calls for the resignation of Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley, who insists he has the support of Red Tractor directors.

Reviews launched

Two reviews have since been announced. The first, being carried out by consultancy Campbell Tickell, is looking at Red Tractor’s governance, how it operates, the effectiveness of its structure and decision-making, and how new standards are developed.

To win support from farmers, Mr Bradshaw said recommendations from this review would have to be put out to the industry.

This would enable farmers to question them, understand why they had been made, and move forward in a united fashion.

“This current division is not doing the industry any good,” he said. “I understand exactly why it has happened. But we do now need to move forwards.

“We have to get this right. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to review assurance. We have to get something that works for the farming industry. It still has to deliver what the supply chain needs – we can’t ignore that.”

Acknowledging that some farmers would like to reject the demands placed on them by supermarkets, Mr Bradshaw said doing so would risk making matters worse.

“We’ll end up with this proliferation of inspection, which is something we don’t want.”

He also addressed accusations that Red Tractor had overstepped its remit by asking farmers to carbon-footprint their businesses.

“Red Tractor has never been given a mandate by its members to move beyond traceability and food safety,” he said.

“If the future is in a different place, then the farmer membership has to give it the mandate to do that. They have never done it. Ultimately, many challenges have been brushed under the carpet, and a lot of sticking plasters used.”

Repeating the assertion that farmers would be given the opportunity to have their say, Mr Bradshaw added: “Building trust has to be the absolute focus for Red Tractor now.

“That is paramount to its future. I would just say, judge us on the outcome.”

The second review is a broader look at shaping the future of farm assurance. It will be led by a team of independent commissioners appointed jointly by the NFU and the AHDB.

Mr Bradshaw said: “We hope the first stage will be surveying member organisations – we want as many farmer organisations to be involved with this as possible. It is essential.

“We do need to hear from farmers so their views are heard and they can feed in.”

Red tape burden

Mr Bradshaw’s comments came as outgoing NFU president Minette Batters warned that producers faced a “massive and growing audit burden” of bureaucracy associated with farm assurance schemes.

“Our members say they want to see less bureaucracy – they want to see less duplication,” Mrs Batters said. “They’re facing so many inspections right now – and the mental health challenge that puts on them.”

The challenge wasn’t limited to Red Tractor, she added. There were other schemes without any farmer representation and it was essential that growers and livestock producers had a seat at the table to ensure these schemes were workable.

Asked whether Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley should resign, Mrs Batters said he was answerable and accountable to the Red Tractor board, which had set the direction of travel for the assurance scheme.

“I just don’t think it’s as simple and as clear cut. I think the audit burden and the people that are doing the inspections – there are a lot of challenges there.

“There’s much more to this than any one person, and that’s why this review matters so much.”

Food and farming key for outgoing NFU president

Two people smiling standing outdoors

Minette Batters with prime minister Rishi Sunak © Toby Lea

Reinforcing to consumers the importance of farmers as food producers is a key achievement for farm leader Minette Batters, who is stepping down after six years as NFU president.

During her three consecutive terms at the helm of Britain’s biggest farming organisation, Mrs Batters has ensured that the union is a public-facing, campaigning body as well as an effective lobbying unit at the heart of government.

Her presidency has encompassed the triple challenges of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and domestic political upheaval – with farmers facing the threat of substandard food imports and no clear direction from the government for UK agriculture.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly, Mrs Batters described herself as “one NFU president at one moment in time”.

She also paid tribute to her team and union members for helping to secure a number of important victories during her time in office.

Those victories include making the case for farming as the government prepared its post-Brexit framework for agriculture – and highlighting the importance of farmers as food producers in order for them to deliver for the environment.

Other achievements include successfully lobbying the government to increase the number of agricultural attaches around the world as the UK seeks to open up new global markets for UK farm exports.

The NFU has also made the case to increase the number of seasonal farm workers allowed into the UK to 55,000.

Although there was more work to be done, Mrs Batters said the NFU had made a “massive difference”.

Lobbying has seen the government launch a number of supply chain investigations – including inquiries into the fresh produce and egg sectors, and had kept the gates closed on imports of hormone treated beef too.

In terms of public-facing work, Mrs Batters has made numerous appearances on current affairs programmes – including putting the farming message across as a panellist on the BBC’s Any Questions and Question Time.

The first female NFU president, she has also appeared as a guest on Desert Island Discs and was included in the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List 2020.

On climate change, she announced an NFU target for farming to reach net zero by 2040, a decade earlier than the government’s target for the UK as a whole.

Insisting she never set out to become NFU president, Mrs Batters said she was looking forward to returning to the family farm in Wiltshire. “I feel like I’ve missed a huge part of my farming life – I really miss the cows,” she said.

“It’s the first year in a while that I’m going to be at home for the whole of the spring calving – it’s the first time I’ll be at home for the whole of the spring. I’m really looking forward to going back and farming again.

“I’ve done so many thousands of miles and I’m really excited about the thought of not having to get on a train and not having to drive anywhere. But I will really miss the members because they are what it’s all about.”

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