In its monthly look at the Red Tractor farm assurance scheme, Farmer asks its Cereals, Oilseeds and Sugar Beet Board chair, Guy Smith, why crops grown in the north west for biofuel still need standards.

Former NFU Deputy President Guy Smith took the chair of the board in January, and has spent a lot of time talking to arable farmers about Red Tractor and listening to their comments.

He says: “One of the more curious questions has been around why Red Tractor gets involved with assuring crops that go into biofuel. It’s a good question because clearly this isn’t about food assurance and you will never see the Red Tractor logo on fuel station forecourts.”

The answer is to be found in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in the EU. Directives and obligations largely drive the demand for biofuel that, in turn, farmers take benefit from by selling crops into this new and expanding market soon to be supercharged by the E10 initiative.

On its own, biofuel made from farm-grown crops would struggle to compete against fossil fuels because the latter are cheaper to produce. So the RED is the instrument by which the Governments insists by law that a proportion of the country’s fuels come from renewable sources.

But there is a catch. Guy said: “Concerns have been expressed that this Commission-backed encouragement of the use of biofuels could have a negative effect on the environment if too much land of a high ecological status was converted for biofuel production.

“This has led to the Commission insisting that on farm checks are made to ensure biofuels are not produced at the expense of this land. So for crops such as wheat or oilseed rape to be allowed to go into the biofuels market they must be certified as eligible through an approved scheme.

“This is true for all crops that go into our biofuel refineries whether they are produced domestically from U.K. farms or imported from abroad. To provide these checks the RED (or Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation) recognises a number of schemes. Red Tractor is one of them.”

To date this level of necessary compliance has been achieved through a fairly straightforward verification by the farmer that they haven’t started producing grain for the bio-fuel market at the expense of ecologically sensitive areas on their farm. Unfortunately, the Commission have now decided this isn’t enough and they want to see further evidence proving that grain or oilseed being loaded out of a farm grain store actually came from RED compliant farms. This will mean some more record-keeping and further questions and checks in the Red Tractor audit.

Guy said: “I’m very conscious that no farmer likes extra red tape but, at the same time, farmers recognise the importance of new markets such as biofuels for their crops to help strengthen prices. The new RED compliance section in the Red Tractor audit provides a very acceptable balance between the two.”