Combining audits streamlines the business of arable farming

In the last 12 months, FIA has recruited 20 full-time staff, qualified across four certification schemes, and has undertaken 13,500 audits
In the last 12 months, FIA has recruited 20 full-time staff, qualified across four certification schemes, and has undertaken 13,500 audits

Growers for assurance scheme Scottish Quality Crops are benefiting from streamlined auditing after the appointment of new certification body Food Integrity Assurance.

FIA is now able to certify for four assurance schemes – Scottish Quality Crops, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Wildlife Estates Scotland and most recently, LEAF.

The body was set up by the cooperative support hub SAOS in 2022 to offer devolved, Scotland-centric auditing.

Reducing unnecessary burden on SQC members has been a key mission for managing director, Teresa Dougall, since she assumed the role 18 months ago.

She said: “"We are aware that with 50% of SQC members also QMS Cattle & Sheep members, and some oat growers now required to meet LEAF standards, there is often duplication across schemes, and a question we have heard repeatedly from our members is how can we reduce this?

“Through the appointment of FIA last year we have been able to work alongside them to widen the scope of services available.

"Importantly, FIA shares a similar cooperative ethos, they have a regional understanding of farming in Scotland and they brought with them a vast range of experience and knowledge in assurance and certification."

In the last 12 months, FIA has recruited 20 full-time staff, qualified across four certification schemes, and has undertaken 13,500 audits.

From this month, the SQC scheme will move to a product certification model meaning that audits will be carried out over 12 rather than 10 months to improve capacity.

As a farmer who produces cereals, beef and potatoes, Dave Bell is SQC, QMS and LEAF assured. He says: “It’s great to consolidate these audits, there’s so much overlap in information that’s required.

"The efficiencies of multiple audits being done by one auditor during one visit, saves time for the farmer, the auditor and the certification body itself.”

Mr Bell adds that, if farmers are well prepared, it’s possible to get three audits done, and pass them, in one morning, as he was able to do last year.

“The reason that we farmers don’t like audits, is that we don’t like doing the paperwork! But we must just get on with it, it’s such a necessity.

"As farmers, food safety, traceability and crop safety certification are vital, and these schemes have allowed us to forget about food scares.

"Also, to know that to supply the best market opportunities, assurance is fundamental and all those I sell to require me to have assurance and certification.”

FIA’s general manager, Stephen Sanderson, a former dairy farmer with experience in other certification schemes, explains the cross-scheme process.

“The auditor still needs to do a separate report for each of the assurance schemes, which can take time.

"The more complex the farm, and the paperwork, multiple audits could be a full day or extend into two, but that suits most farmers better than it being a two-hour audit one day, three hours another and another six months later."

In line with this, he sees a mindset shift associated with the younger generation being involved with farm businesses.

“The younger generation see the use of data as an opportunity, as part of progressing their farms and using technology to drive more efficiency," he says.

"We need to do everything we can to harness this in the auditing process and to have 365-day information literally in the palm of our hands.”

Stephen is working on creating a central database of farmers’ information, to which FIA can grant authorised access to each member and approved organisations for verification or certification purposes.

This would allow for more outcome-based certification, he says, where payments are linked to what farmers are doing to drive efficiency, reduce emissions or sequester carbon, rather than undertaking prescriptive actions to meet certain criteria.

Stephen explains: “If you're managing your business in an efficient manner, you gain the benefits of the efficiency and the marketing opportunities that result from embracing those standards.

"But second to that, you're improving your carbon footprint and maximising your carbon credit. There are potentially lucrative market opportunities from the outcome-based approach for businesses like these.”