NFU set to answer top growers' questions on audit procedures for Assured Produce

The NFU is to field a question and answer session for top fruit growers who have continued to express concerns over the administration of Assured Food Standards Red Tractor schemes despite the promise of a new, simpler version.

Apples: crop rotation question ridiculed by BIGFA. Image: HW
Apples: crop rotation question ridiculed by BIGFA. Image: HW

The session is taking place after the British Independent Fruit Growers' Association's (BIFGA) spring farm walk, on 21 April at Hadlow Place Farm in Tonbridge, Kent.

There, NFU Board for Horticulture vice chairman Gary Taylor and the union's chief policy adviser for the South East Sandra Nichols are advising BIFGA members on the latest changes.

At the start of this month, Assured Food Standards schemes, including Assured Produce, became harmonised to give each food sector the same set of requirements.

BIFGA members last month expressed dissatisfaction with the Assured Produce audits - BIFGA's "rolling back farm assurance schemes" group has been focused on reducing the administrative burden of them for several years.

BIFGA sent a "review" of each question in the old audit to Assured Produce chairman Professor Mark Tatchell to highlight just how irrelevant its members still find many of the questions.

For example, one question from the old audit asks: "Do (your) crop rotations take into account soil condition and reduce reliance on agrochemicals and, in the absence of a rotation, is there written justification?"

BIFGA, in its line-by-line critique, replied: "Trees rotate over 20 to 30 years. Stupid question." Chair John Breach said in the letter to Tatchell: "I understand that there are new protocols due in April but surely the last thing that our industry needs now is for Assured Produce to send out 'more of the same.'"

Taylor, a Lee Valley pepper grower, was appointed by Assured Produce last year to address growers' concerns about the harmonisation. He told Grower that BIFGA's members should find that the harmonised protocol will alleviate some of their concerns.

"When working on the harmonisation we went through all of the protocol line by line and point by point and took on board some of things growers are saying. Some of the questions that are irrelevant have been removed. So this could be the start of bringing Assured Produce to its core values."

He added that the issue of British Retail Consortium (BRC) duplication has been addressed, meaning growers can now use a current BRC audit in place of answering the same questions on the Assured Produce audit.

Tatchell also told Grower: "We have done quite a lot of work to simplify the audit and took note of the points made by food producers and one of the biggest things we have done is to try and eliminate duplication of BRC standards.

"But there's probably more work that needs to be done to improve the audit - we just can't do it all in one hit."

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