Red Tractor, the UK farm assurance scheme, has axed its Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) module following criticism from industry.

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

Following feedback from its members, Christine Tacon, chair of Red Tractor, announced that the GFC was being dropped as “errors had been made”. This comes months after an open letter to industry said that “involving farmers in the continued development of the GFC is absolutely essential.”

Tacon said: “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.”

Responding to the news, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) said: “We welcome today’s news that Red Tractor has listened to feedback from its members and has axed the proposed Greener Farms Commitment.

“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.”

Independent Review of Red Tractor governance

Following the independent review of Red Tractor governance, it was concluded that the assurance scheme’s governance was “sound”. The review said: “Red Tractor’s procedures were followed and there was no procedural breach in relation to the events which gave rise to the decision to commission this review.”

Tacon commented on the review, saying: “The review reports that ‘Red Tractor governance is sound’ and Campbell Tickell have found ‘no procedural breach’.

“The review sends a clear message about the level of frustration farmers feel and we need to listen carefully to their views. We will also continue to increase our efforts and investment in communicating Red Tractor’s purpose and benefits to farmer members.”

Campbell Tickell outlined recommendations for Red Tractor regarding governance. It said to:

  • Create and publish a governance handbook in order to address issues around lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • Introduce a formal process of appraisal for Board and Committee members to “foster a culture of continuous improvement” within the governance of the organisation and enable opportunities for ongoing simplification and streamlining
  • Develop and adopt a Board Member Code of Conduct to “balance two considerations”: That company law requires directors to act in the best interests of the company; and that those interests can sometimes conflict with the interests of the body the director represents
  • Ensure that aspects of the Code of Conduct have application to the wider governance community
  • Address stakeholder engagement and relations as a priority. Campbell Tickell said it understands that Red Tractor intends to commit resource and time to engaging with farmers in coming months, and recommended it be done as soon as practicable
  • Review and revise the Red Tractor risk map so that it can be fit for purpose in the new environment.