The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said it is “challenging” the governance behind the development of a new environment module from Red Tractor.

UFU president David Brown said Red Tractor’s greener farms commitment (GFC) should not have been developed and given the green light without the union’s scrutiny.

Brown said the measures of GFC, to be available to the supply chain from April 1, 2024, are already covered within Northern Ireland, or will be under new government policies.

“The UFU has long supported the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme as it is vital to allow our members to compete in the marketplaces in which they operate,” Brown said.

“Nonetheless, for the past 18 months, we have been robustly challenging the governance behind the development of this environment module.

“The UFU has not been involved with the development of this bolt-on module despite UFU representatives sitting on the advisory and sector boards.”

‘Unnecessary duplication’

Brown said, because most of the measures of the environment module are already covered in Northern Ireland, that introducing it to the Red Tractor Scheme will “create unnecessary duplication” which, he said, is unacceptable.

“From a farmer’s viewpoint, we are keen to move towards a more sustainable approach,” he said.

“The environment module is being publicised as a voluntary measure, but usually these ‘voluntary measures’ inevitably become an industry standard.

“It is only a matter of time until everyone will be required to adhere to it which would not be good for our members.”

Red Tractor

Red Tractor is a food and farm assurance scheme aimed at developing standards based on science and legislation that cover animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection.

Around 50,000 UK farmers are accredited to Red Tractor standards – which form the basis of buying and sourcing food for supermarkets and brands.

Red Tractor said the GFC module has been in the works since 2020.

“Red Tractor’s greener farms commitment is designed as a voluntary addition which will operate very differently from its typical core standards,” it said.

“It enables farmers to make commitments and track their own progress across five key areas for environmentally focused farming: Carbon foot printing; soil management; nutrient management; waste management; and biodiversity.

“It will recognise other schemes or programmes such as the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and other devolved government schemes, reducing the cost and complexity, and making it as easy as possible for farmers to complete.”