Red Tractor has completed 6,300 remote assessments as part of its virtual initiative after all physical on-farm audits were suspended in March.
Over the past two months, the UK’s largest food and farming scheme has seen thousands of farmer members complete remote assessments on-farm.
In March, all physical assessments were halted in accordance with government advice on social distancing and non-essential travel amid the Covid-19 crisis.
A new protocol was developed to meet UKAS requirements, and to ensure that the supply chain remained secure and traceable.
The assurance body's remote assessments gives assessors the ability to have ‘virtual eyes’ on farm and allows farmers to complete their assessments to gain or maintain their assurance status.
Members have been offered the opportunity to opt for either an offline pre-assessment of documentation, followed by a partial assessment using live-streaming technologies to provide a real-time visual inspection of the farm.
Or, alternatively farmers can have the entire assessment-reviewing paperwork and documents, alongside a visual inspection streamed live with an assessor.
Red Tractor’s CEO Jim Moseley said: “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.
"In doing so we have ensured that we continue to have a secure supply chain, which has every member, meeting every standard, every day.
He said farmer members were recognising the benefits of remote assessments: "Not only as a viable solution for now, but as a real asset for the future - helping to overcome some of the geographic and biosecurity challenges they often face.”
Red Tractor's remote assessments have been made possible largely due to the development of an online portal, which works as a confidential online filing cabinet.
Members upload and store all necessary documents required to demonstrate compliance to Red Tractor standards.
Assessors can then review the documents ahead of the assessment. For farmers who struggle with mobile connectivity, the online portal allows them to upload documents beforehand at a time that suits them.
As the UK begins to open again, Red Tractor said it was now preparing to introduce the phased roll-out of physical inspections on farms.
From Monday 6 July, the resumption of on-farm inspections will principally be for new applicants wishing to become Red Tractor assured and for those who have been identified as a poorer performer as part of Red Tractor’s risk-based approach.
On-farm inspections will also be made available for those where live streaming is not a credible option, due to connectivity or technology issues.