The European Commission has granted a temporary approval for Red Tractor assured crops to be used in biofuel manufacture, with the new approval backdated to the former expiry date.

The move follows the expiry of the previous five-year approval which had been reported as causing grain movement problems, although the extent of this is hard to gauge.

The Commission has informed all EU-approved biofuel assurance schemes that the Red Tractor scheme should continue to be considered as compliant with EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sustainability criteria until November 5th 2017, pending its full five-year re-approval. The previous five year approval had expired in early August, meaning   Red Tractor-approved crops could theoretically no longer enter the European biofuels market.

The NFU says the extension will end “the severe disruption experienced by farmers recently in ex-farm grain movements”. While the issue attracted plenty of comment on farmer forums, grain supplies to the two major wheat bioethanol plants were not disrupted, with no reported incidences of contract defaults. However, there could have been a problem had the Commission not reacted so quickly with a temporary approval. Even so, some merchants had to invest in contingency arrangements, and there is criticism that the approval was allowed to expire in the first place, with little communication of the problem and its potential impact before the busy harvest period.   

A Red Tractor spokesman stated that the body had applied for renewal in February this year. However, the process was complicated by the need to incorporate those growers who had converted land to arable production after January 1st 2008.

“Although all the required data was supplied, delays processing the information within the European Commission led to a lapse in recognition. This has now been resolved with the granting of a three-month extension. While the delay was frustrating, the good news is that the changes to the scheme have been fully accepted, so every grower in the scheme will benefit,” he said.

“The extension is also backdated to August 6th 2017, which means that any Red Tractor crops destined for the biofuels market will be recognised as approved by the RED. So, if any growers had issues with outgoing crops or grain, these should now be resolved. Furthermore, the Commission has confirmed that there is nothing outstanding or further required from Red Tractor, to achieve a full five-year renewal of the scheme, which should be granted in the next few weeks. 

NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly observes: “An expedited temporary solution was needed and this is what we have received. We are pleased the EU Commission has been able to respond to the need for market certainty and to avoid further disruption. The Commission confirmed that the Red Tractor standards, as expected, would qualify for approval. We look forward to full five-year re-approval early this autumn.”