The National Sheep Association (NSA) has said that Red Tractor has “sideswiped” the sheep farming sector following the announcement of its Greener Farms Commitment (GFC).

The trade association for UK sheep farmers said it is “deeply concerned” that none of the detail of the commitment has been discussed with those directly impacted.

The NSA is calling for a “root and branch review” of the Red Tractor assurance scheme and its governance.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said: “NSA continues to support the concept of farm assurance as an open gate declaration of good practice.

“But we have long been frustrated that the scheme is losing its way and has become less relevant to sheep farmers with little acceptance of the unique nature of our sector.

“Most of the nation’s sheep farms are not big businesses with layers of management, but are family farms and single operators, many with little land of their own, and our sector still offers a valuable first step on the farming ladder for young new entrants.

“Becoming Red Tractor Assured presents a huge hurdle for many sheep farms, and for most of the sector’s routes to market it adds no value.”

Green farms commitment

NSA said the GFC takes Red Tractor into the realm of setting environmental policy in isolation rather than getting behind the key environmental and sustainable farming schemes being introduced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Following a meeting of the NSA English committee on Monday (October 16) NSA chair Kevin Harrison said:

“There is no doubt the feeling of the NSA English committee is one of a great deal of frustration and concern on how Red Tractor is forcing its vision of the greener farms commitment through without proper consultation, and without any understanding of the unique position sheep producers find themselves in. 

“It is quite telling that those responsible for the governance of the assurance scheme felt the need to work on this behind closed doors without even consulting their boards or technical advisory committees.”

Farming sector input

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker. Source: NSA

Stocker said that the recent announcement of the GFC with no practical input from the farming sector is “flawed and simply a step too far.”

“We do not accept this will remain a voluntary scheme and additionality like this comes with a cost that needs to be supported via market premiums or by full alignment with Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and Countryside Stewardship schemes”.

We are frustrated by the fact there has been no consideration for the hundreds of sheep farmers who operate as graziers on other people’s land and have no influence on wider land management decisions, or direct access to SFI and similar schemes, yet do a great job within the boundaries of their authority”.

“We are not prepared to put at risk the social and cultural makeup of our industry in this drive for more industrialisation, supposed professionalisation, and red tape.”

NSA said it is especially concerned this development comes as “one of a litany of ill-thought-out decisions” from Red Tractor.

“This latest proposal has resulted in NSA calling for a review of the governance and direction of Red Tractor,” Stocker said.

“NSA is fully prepared to continue to work with the scheme in a constructive way, on the beef and lamb board and the technical advisory committee, but that doesn’t stop us from calling the governance of the organisation into question. 

“Furthermore, NSA is not prepared to be part of any development advisory panel for the greener farms commitment on the basis that the whole concept needs to go back to the drawing board with full debate and discussion with the farming community.”