FARMING unions have expressed concern over Red Tractor’s announcement it will introduce a new environmental module for producers signed up to the standard next year.

Concerns have been expressed over the module’s announcement last week and the level to which Red Tractor consulted farmers and union representatives.

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In mid-October, Red Tractor announced it was making a Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) available from 1 April 2024 that would aim to create a “single consistent industry approach” to sustainability reporting.

The GFC was announced as a voluntary module that would not be formally inspected in the way that formal standards are. In its release about the new measure, Red Tractor said it had attained an ‘unprecedented level of support’.

But both the NFU and Ulster Farmers Union have expressed concern over the new measure – in particular consultation with farmers and how it was announced.

Alarmed

The NFU’s deputy president Tom Bradshaw said: “I was alarmed that it had been previously decided by the Red Tractor board that in developing this module all of the technical committees and sector boards where NFU members sit would be bypassed. I have found this position completely unacceptable and said so repeatedly.

“We have never said that as one of the 18 members of the Red Tractor board we didn’t have knowledge of the module, but at no point have expert NFU members and advisors been involved with the development of the crucial details within it.”

However, following an NFU council meeting, Mr Bradshaw struck a more conciliatory tone this week, saying: “We all accept that the roll-out of the GFC hasn’t been as any of us would have wished, but the issue is about procedures, not principles.

“We can and should work together to address those issues, get past this and move on for the benefit of farmers, growers, the wider supply chain and, crucially, consumers.”

Challenging

Ulster Farmers’ Union president David Brown said it had long supported the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme.

“Nonetheless, for the past 18 months, we have been robustly challenging the governance behind the development of this environment module.

“The UFU has not been involved with the development of this bolt-on module despite UFU representatives sitting on the advisory and sector boards. This proposed module has been developed and given the green light without UFU scrutiny which is not acceptable.”

“The environment module is being publicised as a voluntary measure, but usually, these ‘voluntary measures’ inevitably become an industry standard.

“It is only a matter of time until everyone will be required to adhere to it which would not be good for our members.

“Most of the measures within the bolt-on are already covered within Northern Ireland or will be conditional under new government farm support policies/schemes.”