THOUSANDS OF farmers have completed remote farm audits during lockdown under the Red Tractor assurance scheme.

Physical inspections were suspended on March 20 which prompted the organisation to roll out remote assessments to ensure new applicants and current members retained their assurance status during the pandemic.

The Red Tractor regime for remote assessments gives assessors ‘virtual eyes’ on farm and allows farmers to complete their assessments and keep the supply chain secure and traceable. Longer-term, it is hoped that this online tool could be used as a viable alternative to on-farm inspections to overcome geographical barriers and biosecurity challenges.

Red Tractor’s CEO Jim Moseley said: “With more than 6000 remote assessments already completed since we began the roll out, and thousands more in the pipeline, we are delighted how quickly and well this new protocol has been received by members.

"Over 2000 famers have signed up to the Red Tractor Online Portal and a further 2500 remote assessments are booked in over the coming weeks.

“Working with our certification bodies, we’ve continued to test the platforms and systems, and respond to user feedback, to deliver a robust regime for farmers,” said Mr Moseley. “In doing so we have ensured that we continue to have a secure supply chain, which has every member, meeting every standard, every day.”

Andrew Hurford, who farms alongside his brother and parents in Devon said: “We were due to have our audit a week before lockdown, but this couldn’t go ahead so we were top of the list for the new online version.

“I was apprehensive about it because I’m not very comfortable with technology and I hadn’t used any video conferencing apps before. But the interaction with the assessor was very good and they clearly explained what I needed to do,” he continued.

“The thing that took the most time for me was getting all the documents together. I wasn’t confident about using the technology, so I chose to show the assessor our documentation during the video call, rather than uploading it to the portal beforehand,” he explained. “Now that I feel more confident, I think I’ll be able to use the portal next time. This will make life easier.”

The online portal works as a confidential online filing cabinet where members can upload and store all necessary documents required to demonstrate compliance to Red Tractor standards. It’s a secure and safe way for members to upload and review documents relating to their assessment and has been designed for all Red Tractor farm scheme and transport members to use.

Assessors can then review the documents ahead of the assessment to save members time. For farmers who struggle with mobile connectivity, the online portal allows them to upload documents beforehand at a time that suits them.

As restrictions on lockdown begin to loosen, Red Tractor is now preparing to introduce the phased return of physical inspections on farms, from Monday, July 6. This will principally be new applicants to the scheme, those who have been identified as a poorer performer as part of Red Tractor’s risk-based approach and those who experience connectivity or technology issues and live streaming is not a credible option.