The Farming Regulation Task Force published its recommendations in May 2011 . It which set out an ambitious challenge to reduce regulatory burdens on the farming industry. A key theme of the Task Force report was ‘earned recognition’ (see Chapter 3 of the Farming Regulation Task Force report), where consistently high standards in farming practice could be rewarded with less frequent inspection by including accredited third party information into risk models.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) carries out an inspection programme to farm holdings to assess compliance with regulations under cross compliance . As these inspections are carried out to meet the obligations of EU legislation, a proportion of inspections are required to be carried out on the basis of risk, using a risk model.
As a first step towards implementing a system of earned recognition across on farm inspections, we are considering the potential application of earned recognition to cross compliance, using accredited assurance scheme information in risk-modelling for the RPA cross compliance inspection programme for 2013. We need a reliable evidence base to support any potential changes in approach. Changes need to be implemented in close partnership with delivery partners and with the close involvement of the farming industry and other stakeholders.
One risk criterion of interest is membership of a farm assurance scheme. Farm assurance schemes, e.g. Assured Food Standards (who provide Red Tractor ), are a key industry vehicles for delivering particular standards across the sectors i.e. crops, dairy etc. However, many assurance schemes target specific issues, and so many do not cover the full range of environmental performance expected within cross compliance. For example, research for Defra by the University of Hertfordshire has shown that assurance schemes do not generally meet all environmental, socio-economic and animal health and welfare policy outcomes. Also, not all farmers are members of farm assurance schemes, but that does not mean that they are not delivering high standards of best practice. This raises key research questions:
• Do we only apply earned recognition in inspections where assurance schemes specifically set environmental standards and are audited? If we do this it might limit what we are able to achieve; or
• Can we “read across” and test the assumption that if farmers are delivering high standards of compliance in areas covered by assurance schemes that they are members of, are they also delivering the required standards in areas not covered by those schemes?
Therefore, primarily a desk-based study is required to assess whether being a member of an assurance scheme affects compliance with regulations under cross compliance, as assessed by inspectors from the RPA.
If a positive relationship is shown, we would want to use this evidence to support the case for applying earned recognition across inspection regimes. If the evidence strongly suggests that farmers’ positive behaviours can extend beyond what is required in a particular assurance scheme, we may be able to apply the earned recognition principle across many cross-compliance criteria with greater confidence in the existing risk model.