In a blunt tirade, Kent grower Peter Kedge called the union's efforts "spineless". His comments came during a British Independent Fruit Growers' Association (BIFGA) meeting on assured produce schemes at Hadlow Place Farm on 21 April after its spring farm walk.
Assured Produce Scheme chairman Professor Mark Tatchell and NFU board for horticulture vice-chairman Gary Taylor had been invited to answer growers' questions about the scheme.
"The NFU has not stood firm with fruit growers against what's been thrown at them by supermarkets," Kedge claimed. "It has been subservient to the supermarkets rather than standing up for those they are supposed to represent. When will they tell supermarkets enough is enough?"
Taylor replied that he would not have attended the meeting if the union had not been working for their grower members on assured produce. However, Kedge insisted that he was present "only because BIFGA members came screaming and shouting".
"The NFU may look after the interests of certain of its members but not those of its small players," Kedge argued. "It is not paying attention to what we are saying from the shop floor. It should have stood firm against the supermarkets in the first place and put an assured produce scheme in place that works for all."
Taylor explained that the union was helping its grower members by producing, at considerable cost, a pack that will make filling in their assured produce scheme audit forms much easier. But he was unable to give more details about it other than it will be available to members soon free of charge.
Kedge said there were questions in the audits that not everyone fully understood. He suggested that this could be addressed by holding workshops for growers to explain the questions "in layman's terms".
Part of the solution would be feedback from growers on which questions were ambiguous and needed clarification, said Tatchell. He added that his office and phone number were always available for growers who needed help.
Earlier, Tatchell had said a new set of audit standards or questions had been produced partly to eliminate duplication. It will be revised after being in use for 18 months after growers had been asked which of the standards they wanted to be changed.
"A question may need to be rephrased or removed or the way it's audited may need to be modified," he explained. "The standards need to be applicable to 50 different crops, not just apples and pears. A scheme specifically for apples would be very expensive."