The potential introduction of a digital passport to accompany grain movements has once again come to the fore.

NFU Scotland challenged the proposed introduction of digital grain passports (DGP) in November 2022, following extensive consultation with its membership. While the Union’s Combinable Crops committee could see some potential advantages of digital grain passports, there was a concern over value for money, future cost increases, and extension of their scope.

There was an overall feeling that digitising the passports would make something simple more complex and less accessible, at an unreasonably high cost. When assessing the pros and cons of introducing DGP, NFU Scotland set six key criteria to consider:

• Is it accessible?

• Is it efficient?

• Is it fit for purpose (does its scope remain within paper passport requirements)?

• Are costs proportionate to benefits?

• Will the data be owned by those who provide it?

• Will the farming sector have a say in how the data is used?

Stakeholders including NFU, Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), the Maltsters’ Association of Great Britain (MAGB), UK Flour Millers Association, Seed Crushers and Oilseed Processors Association (SCOPA) have been the leading bodies in showing willingness to create a DGP.

A consultation on the latest proposals opened in late November 2023 and will close on Friday, February 2, 2024. The Union’s Combinable Crops committee discussed the proposals at its November meeting and the wider membership will now be consulted.

Vice president Andrew Connon, who sits on the DGP development group said: “NFU Scotland members made the bold but justifiable decision to put the brakes on the introduction of digital grain passports a year ago until a clear business case for their introduction could be made.

“The direction of travel on DGPs in Spring 2023 had the potential to establish an over-complicated ‘monster’ that would have potentially transformed the grain marketing process in this country. NFUS stood firm in saying such complexity was totally unacceptable and only a simple replacement of the current paper passport merited consideration. Our involvement sought to ensure that any new version of DGP will be in line with the criteria set by our committee and not just accepting what others in the supply chain would ask of us.

“The business case is now out for consultation and merits careful consideration to identify if the concerns expressed by our membership a year ago have been addressed. There is no doubt that technology is the way ahead for our industry, but technology needs to be proven to have a genuine benefit for our growers and in the case of DGP it will need to satisfy the six key criteria that NFUS originally highlighted.

“In addition, the grain trade needs to decide what it wants as there are still mixed messages coming from the suppliers and merchants with some in favour and others staunchly against the idea. The haulage industry also has a range of opinions. Some haulage businesses are already using the latest tech in running their fleets whilst others have yet to embrace the new technology that would be associated with the introduction of DGP.

“The next few months will see much debate on the subject and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Sector Council will, at the end of the consultation, decide on whether to proceed with DGP development. In the meantime, we will fully consult with our members and submit our views in February.”