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NFU Scotland AGM 2022: Sustainability increasingly important for farm assurance

Sustainability will become an increasingly important component of farm assurance, including that behind Scotch Beef.
Sustainability will become an increasingly important component of farm assurance, including that behind Scotch Beef.

Sustainability will become an increasingly important component of farm assurance going forward, claim the leaders of three industry assurance bodies.

Speaking at the NFU Scotland virtual annual general meeting and conference, the chairs of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Red Tractor and Scottish Quality Crops (SQC) said farm produce buyers were increasingly asking for assurances about the sustainability of food produced on British farms.

SQC chairman Andrew Moir.

SQC chairman Andrew Moir, who runs a contract farming business near Laurencekirk, said: “Increasingly sustainability is needing to be proven and audited, and we have customers wanting extras.”

As an example, he said Quaker Oats was requiring its growers to have a LEAF – Linking Environment and Farming – audit.

“This is not without its challenges and costs, and SQC will try and get things in place where there is just one audit,” added Mr Moir.

He called for the creation of an industry-wide sustainability strategy and said SQC, along with stakeholders in the arable sector, could co-ordinate this for growers to deliver a sustainability scheme.

Red Tractor chairwoman Christine Tacon, who formerly served as Groceries Code Adjudicator, agreed that sustainability was becoming increasingly important.

Red Tractor farm assurance chairwoman Christine Tacon.

She said: “All down-stream users of our products are asking for worker welfare or sustainability standards, and even the banks are worrying about the carbon footprint of their loans.”

However, Ms Tacon acknowledged the challenges associated with measuring certain sustainability standards, such as the carbon footprint of a farm.

She added: “Working with AHDB and the NFU we came to the conclusion that three of the most popular carbon audit calculators came to a different answer for the same farm.”

QMS chairwoman Kate Rowell, who farms in Peebleshire, said further sustainability standards needed to be embedded into the schemes which govern the Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork brands.

However, she said: “A big part of our standards are already sustainable so it’s just a case of highlighting this to our consumers.”

QMS chairwoman Kate Rowell.

She acknowledged that farm assurance audits weren’t popular with farmers and crofters, but encouraged them to embrace their standards and be proud of them.

Ms Rowell added: “These schemes are voluntary but what we need to try and do is change the mindset for the farmers.

“We need to see it as a chance to showcase the good things that we do; we should be welcoming the fact that we can prove to the assessor that we are doing things right and prove to consumers that we are this fantastic industry.”

She said QMS was working to create an online hub for assurance scheme users to upload records and plans to make on-farm farm assurance assessments more streamlined.

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