Red Tractor axes plans for Greener Farms Commitment

Red Tractor Assurance has announced that it is dropping controversial plans for a Greener Farms Commitment module (GFC), following feedback from farmers.

The move follows a major farmer backlash since Red Tractor announced plans for the voluntary, bolt-on environmental module to its schemes last October.

Farmers feared that if the GFC was introduced, it would force them to give away their valuable natural capital data for free – to the benefit of others in the supply chain, mainly the retailers. Some also raised concerns the scheme would later become compulsory. 

See also: Four farming unions to oversee wider Red Tractor review

The four main UK farming unions (NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers’ Union), together with the AHDB, issued a joint statement welcoming the news. Earlier this month, the unions had urged Red Tractor to scrap its plans for the GFC.

“We welcome today’s news that Red Tractor has listened to feedback from its members and has axed the proposed Greener Farms Commitment,” said the statement.

“It’s also pleasing to see a commitment from Red Tractor that it will only consider future environmental standards with sector consensus and full consultation. This is essential in rebuilding trust with farmers from across Britain, something we are pleased that Red Tractor has said is a priority and is already acting upon.

“We welcome Red Tractor’s desire for a more transparent, open and effective relationship with farmers in future.”

Red Tractor said it developed the GFC module to help farmers, processors and retailers “meet the growing need for all to demonstrate sustainability, but in a single, practical and consistent way”. 

‘Errors made’ 

However, having taken on board the concerns about the effect the GFC would have on many farmers across the UK, Assured Food Standards (AFS), the organisation which manages and promotes the Red Tractor scheme, announced on Friday (22 March) it had agreed to discontinue the module.  

AFS chairwoman Christine Tacon said that while the module had been conceived with the best of intentions, errors had been made.

“We take responsibility for those issues and are sorry. We hope that by dropping the module, we can close the door on this chapter and move forward,” said Ms Tacon.

“We will only be involved in future environmental standards when all constituencies across the UK food and farming chain, by sector, ask us to, and with full consultation.”

Red Tractor’s AFS board has also accepted the conclusions of the Campbell Tickell review of Red Tractor’s governance and confirmed its commitment to implement all the recommendations.

Ms Tacon continued: “While the review found that ‘Red Tractor governance is sound’, it also sent a clear message about the frustration farmers are feeling.

“We will act now to improve our communications to farmers, including the transparency of our operations, purpose and benefits, and we will strengthen our stakeholder engagement.”

Wider review

She added: “We will listen more closely to our farmers. For example, Red Tractor has previously found that transparency, audit burden and value are farmers’ top concerns with the scheme.

“Significant efforts are already under way to tackle these, which you will hear more about in the next few months.”

A second, more wide-ranging view of Red Tractor and the farm assurance network, overseen by the four main UK farming unions was officially launched earlier this week.


Staffordshire farmer Clive Bailye has been an outspoken critic of Red Tractor for more than a decade, arguing that it has gone way beyond its original remit and has been adding more and more rules.

“This is fantastic news for British farmers that Red Tractor has scrapped the GFC,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“If Red Tractor had gone ahead with the GFC they would have risked their very own existence. That was the standoff we were heading towards with farmers like myself threatening to stage a major walkout.”

Mr Bailye, who also runs The Farming Forum, said he hoped the wider review of Red Tractor and farm assurance would bring more general common sense outcomes.

“UK farmers may be at the beginning of a rebalancing of power,” he suggested.

Mr Bailye also praised the farming press, in particular Farmers Weekly, for tackling the issues around the GFC head on.

“It’s great to see Farmers Weekly is not scared of taking on these stories,” he added. “It shows that farmers can make a difference by standing up and saying No, without the need this time for protests.”

Steve Ridsdale, chairman of the British Farming Union, said the scrapping of the GFC scheme was a “victory for farmers, who had collectively been able to come together and have a voice”.

He was pleased to see that farmer pressure on Red Tractor to drop the scheme had paid off and that the NFU had finally spoken out against it.

“The GFC within Red Tractor would have become ‘the norm’ and thus not gained any price premium,” said Mr Ridsdale.

“Red Tractor genericises our produce and the GFC would epitomise this. We need differentiation from assurance schemes, not a single blanket scheme with no return for farmers.”

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