UK farming unions and AHDB issue joint statement

Tuesday, 5 March 2024

The UK Farming Unions and AHDB have agreed the following advisory statement after they received the final investigatory report from consultants Campbell Tickell, which reviewed the governance of Red Tractor.

While the review found Red Tractor had followed the agreed governance process, it showed this same process had fallen well short of winning the consent of its farming members.

The UK Farming Unions and AHDB believe that Red Tractor should use the recommendations made by Campbell Tickell to rebuild trust with farming members, and have agreed the following advice to the AFS Board and leadership.

Basic objectives

The farming unions and AHDB continue to support the basic objectives that established and underpin the role of Red Tractor.

Farm assurance standard of choice

We recognise that Red Tractor fulfils and should retain its position as a principal core farm assurance standard of choice for producers and retailers in the United Kingdom. We recognise that to retain this position, Red Tractor standards will evolve and will be kept under review, updated and relevant to the market context, reflective of the impact of devolution on agricultural producers and attentive to the different production sectors and systems.

Swift implementation

The farming unions and AHDB recommend that the AFS leadership team and AFS Board move swiftly to implement the governance recommendations contained in the Campbell Tickell’s report. We recognise that the AFS Board and leadership team may wish to retain professional expertise to assist with implementation of these recommendations.

Re-building trust

The farming unions and AHDB request that the AFS Board prioritises re-building trust and partnership with its farming constituency, listening to and engaging with farmers and growers. We recognise our clear support for AFS and its programme is crucial, especially as many among our farming constituencies were vocally sceptical of the Greener Farms Commitment, and, by extension, Red Tractor.

Such opposition presents an existential threat to the business. This threat must be addressed by action from Red Tractor that rekindles the spirit of trust, partnership and collective endeavour that characterised Red Tractor’s earlier development. Such action would enable supportive statements from farming stakeholders.

General review of farm assurance

The farming unions and AHDB encourage AFS to contribute to the general review of farm assurance which we are sponsoring. Red Tractor has a dominant market position, longevity and considerable practical experience to offer the independent Commission that will shortly conduct a review of farm assurance. It is vital that the Commission hears these insights during the review.

Greener Farms Commitment

The farming unions and AHDB strongly recommend that the Greener Farms Commitment module development is discontinued. It is for the AFS Board to consider and agree in what form, and when, it should commission work on sustainability standards.

We recommend that any development must evidently and transparently work with all constituencies across the food and farming supply chain, learning from the distinctions across UK agriculture and horticulture, and particularly sectors with clear demand.

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. Instead, the AFS board needs to 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.