Following the news of a review of Red Tractor governance, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has called for the review panel to be of “truly independent background”.
Earlier this month, it was announced that new Red Tractor standards and additional modules would be on hold until the review had been completed, following backlash from farming organisations over its proposed greener farms commitment (GFC) module.
NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said the association has been “steadfast” in its response to recent Red Tractor decisions.
Stocker said the NSA is calling for a “completely independent review” with an independent chair and panel to assess the governance of Red Tractor as well as what the sector needs from assurance schemes.
“It is no secret that Red Tractor has been losing sheep sector membership continually over the past few years,” he said.
“The sector has lost trust and confidence in the direction and management of Red Tractor and any review must get to the root of the issue of what the sheep farming sector, throughout its supply chain, needs from assurance.
“We have to consider that we have a diverse range of markets and we need a proper debate over how Red Tractor, and indeed other standard setters and assurance bodies can support our industry.”
NSA vice president and Red Tractor sector board member, Bryan Griffiths, said the review must be independent in order to gain confidence and trust from the sector.
“Allowing the agricultural sector, Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members, sector board members, and farming businesses, including those who are not part of Red Tractor, to give oral and written evidence to an independent panel,” he said.
“The review must address the glaring issues with board appointments, openness, terms of reference, issues with harmonisation across sectors and most importantly what is achievable at farm level.”
Two reviews will be conducted by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), after its council questioned whether Red Tractor provides value for producers.
Work to get both reviews underway has already begun, the NFU said, the first of which will focus on Red Tractor governance, followed by a review of farm assurance more widely.
The NFU council agreed that the ambition should be for the work to be completed in time for its next meeting in January 2024.
‘Fit for purpose’ assurance
Welcoming the two independent reviews by the NFU, Red Tractor said it wants to make sure assurance is “fit for purpose” in the years ahead.
While working on the detail of the GFC, the strength of feeling from farmers across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has become “clear”, the NFU said.
“It has been a difficult period across UK agriculture, which has brought forward frustration from farmers that runs deeper than just our proposals for an environment module.
“We recognise that and have decided that the NFU’s independent review of Red Tractor governance must come first,” Red Tractor chair Christine Tacon said.
Tacon said that any continuation of work on an environment module would need to include more detailed dialogue with farmers and supply chains, and consider relevant government policy.