November 28, 2023

News Cymru

Two sides to every headline

Red Tractor Wheat Import Controversy

The Farmers Weekly podcast this week was highlighting the controversy over imported wheat. The issue being foreign wheat destined for livestock feed and human consumption is not subject to Red Tractor certification but British farmers who want to sell their wheat for livestock and human consumption are.

Understandably British farmers want the playing field leveled. Unfortunately, I don’t think they are asking for the correct thing.

There is a system which inspects the quality of imported wheat (FEMAS). For some reason British farmers are not eligible to have their wheat subjected to the same tests in order for them to sell their wheat for livestock and human consumption in the UK.

A sample of what’s involved in Red Tractor certification. Which foreign wheat imports completely bypass.

Two things leave me speechless here.

One that imported wheat is not subject to standards which are legally mandated for British farmers

Two that the standards which allow foreign wheat to bypass the Red Tractor scheme are not open to British farmers.

How this situation ever came to me is unbelievable, at least for an outsider like myself.

Needless to say Red Tractor defends the situation.

Red Tractor’s solution is for British wheat farmers to be allowed into the scheme which foreign wheat currently uses. However they say, the costs are so high that no farmer would be able to take advantage of the system.

Which begs the question, if British farmers wouldn’t be able to afford the tests, how can foreign farmers?

Of course Red Tractor is being disingenuous. The wheat from foreign farms are not inspected individually because, as Red Tractor points out, it would be too expensive, instead, as the Farmers Weekly podcast points out, the wheat from numerous farms are combined together into one “150,000” tonne shipment (is the example used on the podcast) and that single shipment is inspected. ie the cost of the tests are spread out over more wheat making the testing process cost effective.

British farmers could do the same thing and therefore the price of testing would not be prohibitive for British farmers just like it is not prohibitive for foreign farmers. I wonder why Red Tractor would portray the situation differently….

The Association of UK Flour Millers have also weighed in. Their position being how expensive it is to import foreign wheat and how the Red Tractor scheme is fantastic and makes the lives of British farmers easier.

I would say if the Association of UK Flour Millers is in favour of the Red Tractor scheme, I would say the Red Tractor scheme must be fantastic for them and save them money and make their life easier.

If the Red Tractor scheme did not exist one imagines the business of the millers would be more complicated and risky. They would be buying lots from British farmers as they buy from foreign farmers now. The Red Tractor scheme allows British mills to push the cost of checks and compliance down to the farmer instead of it being born by them, as I imagine it is with the foreign imports.

One can imagine the symbiotic relationship that exists between the Red Tractor scheme and the UK Flour Millers. Certification gives Red Tractor a reason to exist and it receives income from farmers while UK Millers push the price of compliance down to the individual farmer.

When looked at from this angle I can easily see how the apparently “crazy” situation we have for wheat imports came in to existence.

I imagine Red Tractor and UK Millers are pushing as many farmers as possible into the funnel that is Red Tractor certification and how they will make any alternative (ie the system used for wheat imports) as expensive for British farmers as possible.

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