The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has proposed a new protocol on farm audits for the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (SBLQAS).

Under the protocol, auditors will adopt a “positive, helpful approach that is respectful, courteous and non-threatening to the farmer at all times”, IFA National Livestock Chairman Angus Woods said.

This week, the IFA had a meeting with Bord Bia to discuss the key issues the new protocol will cover. Bord Bia has agreed to finalise the arrangements as soon as possible, so they can be adopted on the ground within a matter of weeks.

The new SBLQAS was launched at Easter and over 1,800 farm audits have already taken place, Woods said. The new help-desk to assist farmers with any non-compliance, and the new close-out facility, are up and running with eight trained employees.

The help-desk is being operated by Farm Relief Services (FRS) from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, and telephone lines are open from 9:00am to 8:00pm daily during week days. The IFA has suggested the service be made available on Saturdays too.

The farmers’ organisation has put forward proposals which Bord Bia is working on, which cover a number of important areas such as notice of inspection, Woods said.

He added that under the Bord Bia scheme, it is left up to the farmer to decide when the best time to conduct the audit would be, usually within about a four-month window. Scheduling the time and date is done entirely with the farmer’s agreement.

The protocol will also cover the audit and certification process, as well as the new close-out facility, to allow the farmer to correct non-compliances. It will make clear what the farmer can expect at each stage of the process and outline how the help-desk and close-out arrangements will assist them.

Woods said it is vital that the farmer is clear on all of the issues before the auditor leaves the farm.

Bord Bia agreed that an SBLQAS audit should not take more than 90 minutes on average, according to Woods.

Other major issues include removing the necessity for farmers to assemble or pen livestock for an SBLQAS audit.

Photographs will only be taken with the “absolute” consent of the farmer in advance and where they can aid the close-out process. The certification period will be for 18 months and Bord Bia will make sure that all auditors are fully trained on an ongoing basis.