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Red Tractor Halts Green Farming Standard Amid Farmer Backlash

Red Tractor has announced it will not proceed with the introduction of its green farming assurance standard, initially scheduled for April, following significant opposition from the UK farming community.

The proposed Greener Farms Commitment (GFC), a voluntary standard recognising farmers meeting specific environmental benchmarks, had sparked concerns among farmers about potential mandatory market access requirements and the financial implications of adopting sustainability measures on behalf of supermarkets.

The backlash led to a halt in the GFC's development as the National Farmers Union (NFU) conducted a governance review of Red Tractor. The review's findings, published last week, indicated that Red Tractor was experiencing a crisis of confidence among farmers.

Both the NFU and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), as founding members of Red Tractor, have urged the board to discontinue the GFC's development. Their joint statement highlighted the lack of support for the initiative, stating, "The UK Farming Unions and AHDB are very clear that the Greener Farms Commitment will be unable to command any level of support no matter what consultation is put in place. Resumption of work on the Greener Farms Commitment module would be extremely damaging to Red Tractor’s reputation."

The statement further suggested that Red Tractor should "begin from first principles in ‘full consultation mode’ and once trust has been re-established, to offer the best basis for propelling action on these issues."

Red Tractor confirmed to the PA news agency that the GFC would not launch on April 1 and mentioned that future steps would be discussed at a board meeting later this month. Chair Christine Tacon told BBC Radio 4, "When we move forward with it again – and I’m not saying ‘if’, it is a ‘when’ – we’re doing it with the support and in a way that everyone is happy with so we do get to the right answer in the end."

Leicestershire farmer Joe Stanley criticised the initial proposal for not consulting farmers adequately and for expecting them to subsidise supermarket sustainability targets.

"Fundamentally farmers are not being paid enough for the food they produce and it’s unsustainable," he added, calling for a complete restart of the process with proper farmer consultation.

Clive Bailye, a Staffordshire farmer, argued against Red Tractor's involvement in green assurance, suggesting the market for environmental credits should develop freely. Similarly, Steve Ridsdale, an East Yorkshire farmer, anticipated a new sustainability model developed in consultation with farmers.

Andrew Blenkiron, director at Euston Estate in Suffolk, expressed disappointment over any decision to cancel the GFC, emphasising the voluntary nature of the standard and the risk of losing market share to international competitors.

In response to the controversy, Red Tractor stated that the NFU review affirmed its governance was sound and that it is carefully considering the report's findings.

"Balancing differing views across the supply chain is difficult at any time, but we hear loud and clear the level of frustration farmers feel in the current operating environment, and we will listen carefully and take these views into account," Red Tractor said, acknowledging the need to reflect and refresh its approach for all stakeholders.


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