DAVID HANDLEY COLUMN WESTERN DAILY PRESS JULY 20
Everyone who farms livestock is fully aware of the old saying that if you don’t look after their animals they won’t look after you.
I have always taken the view that it’s the best bit of advice going and one that a farmer only ignores at his or her peril.
So I look after my dairy herd and make sure I check their condition, not once a day but several times a day. In fact they routinely pass in front of my eyes four times a day when they come in for milking and are let out again, and that’s quite apart from the other visits I make to them when they are grazing.
I think I am doing a pretty good job. My vet agrees. The only issue he has raised with me is that perhaps two of them may need some adjustment in their diet. Otherwise they are fine.
But not, it seems, for everyone. I have just had the rule run over me and my operation by the assessor who decides whether I qualify for ‘farm assurance’ status and can therefore proudly stand behind the Red tractor banner with the best of them.
What I have been pulled up on is the fact that I do not keep written mobility and condition records. These are not yet enforceable under the scheme – but I have reason to suspect they soon may be. Of course what no-one from Red Tractor will be able to do is to actually justify the keeping of such records when I already keep a four-times-a-day check on my animals and (see my opening sentence) intervene immediately if I suspect a problem.
The only thing that will be achieved by keeping written records will be the creation of more work for the assessor; more forms for him to sit down and read through and check; one more task to help fill his required nine-to-five working day. And let’s suppose I decided to cook up a completely bogus set of records. How would he even know?
His other gripe was that there are ‘only’ myself and my wife on the farm to do the job of administering routine drugs and that we haven’t been properly ‘trained’. I dare say we could be. I am sure we could both take the day off work and drive 150 miles or so and pay a couple of hundred pounds to attend some course on correct drug administration and come back with a certificate to pin on the parlour wall for the cows to read. But would that make us any more competent at the job than we currently are, both having done it for more than 50 years?
When the Red Tractor scheme was launched the president of the NFU (under whose wing it actually operates) was Ben Gill who told us all how vital it was going to be in supplying the nation with safe, wholesome food which consumers could buy with confidence while, equally, bringing more prosperous times for farmers.
What I see now is an organisation riddled with pointless bureaucracy (I understand another tier of inspectors is in place to check on the assessors.
I see, equally an organisation which appears to operate dual standards: one for the soft-target, small producers like me and another for the industrial giants such as Moy Park, over whose portals the Red Tractor flag proudly flies.
I still don’t believe consumers understand what the Red Tractor is all about, though if they had seen the recent footage captured undercover at Moy Park they might well believe it is a seal of approval for stinking, squalid poultry houses where chickens will be lucky to survive their miserably short allotted span. And here I have to ask two pertinent questions: if Assured Foods was aware of conditions at this plant why did it not intervene? And if it wasn’t aware, why not?
As to the immeasurable benefits the scheme would deliver for farmers my only reward for stumping up another £800 to be assessed on my qualification for it has been a £12,000 drop in my income from milk last year.