Sheep industry representatives have accused the Red Tractor scheme of forcing its vision for environmentally focused farming onto producers and called for a root and branch review of the farm assurance scheme.
Red Tractor has been developing an additional, voluntary environment module since 2020 in response to growing pressure on retailers, out of home operators and brands to source their primary produce more sustainably. The result is a new ‘greener farms commitment’, which will sit outside of Red Tractor’s core standards with its own distinct label when it becomes available to the market from April next year.
The green module, which is supported by the British Retail Consortium and a number of leading grocery retailers, enables farmers to make commitments and track their own progress across five key areas for environmentally focused farming: carbon footprinting, soil management, nutrient management, waste management and biodiversity.
Red Tractor says it will recognise other schemes or programmes such as the government’s sustainable farming incentive (SFI) and other devolved government schemes, reducing cost, complexity and duplication of audits.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) however claims the sector has been locked out of the development of the greener farms commitment. “There is no doubt the feeling of the NSA English committee is one of a great deal of frustration and concern on how Red Tractor is forcing its vision of the greener farms commitment through without proper consultation and without any understanding of the unique position sheep producers find themselves in,” said NSA English committee chair Kevin Harrison. “It is quite telling that those responsible for the governance of the assurance scheme felt the need to work on this behind closed doors without even consulting their boards or technical advisory committees.”
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker added: “We are frustrated by the fact there has been no consideration for the hundreds of sheep farmers who operate as graziers on other people’s land and have no influence on wider land management decisions, or direct access to SFI and similar schemes, yet do a great job within the boundaries of their authority. We are not prepared to put at risk the social and cultural makeup of our industry in this drive for more industrialisation, supposed professionalisation and red tape.”
Stocker said the NSA is concerned Red Tractor “is losing its way” and called for a review of the governance and direction of the farm assurance scheme.
Other farming bodies have also expressed concern over the lack of consultation over the new green module.
By contrast, retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and M&S have welcomed the greener farms commitment. “To deliver on our climate and nature commitments it’s vital we partner with suppliers and farmers to effectively measure, and improve the impact food production has on soil, water and biodiversity,” said Claire Lorains, group quality, technical and sustainability director at Tesco. “We believe the Red Tractor greener farms commitment can help us deliver on these commitments by setting a strong baseline environmental standard that supports the right frameworks to measure and manage.”