Biosecurity is a risk for farmers during the best of times. COVID-19, however, has changed the risk focus from birds to staff. In many countries, with only essential workers allowed on farm and all but essential travel banned, farm inspections have become impossible

But necessity is the mother of invention. Virtual farm inspections pioneered by U.K. certification program Red Tractor may offer a model for others where a physical presence may no longer be possible or necessary.

Standard Red Tractor assessments in the U.K. came to halt in March, but pandemic or no pandemic, the scheme needed to ensure that its members were adhering to its standards. It now does this through what it has termed “virtual eyes”.

A better normal

Rather than accept an inspector on farm, members of the scheme can now be checked via one of two ways.

One option requires members to submit documentation for pre-assessment which is then followed by a partial assessment using live-streaming technologies to produce a real-time farm inspection. Alternatively, the entire assessment – reviewing paperwork and a visual inspection – can be streamed live with an assessor.

The remote assessments have been made possible largely due to the development of a unique online portal, Red Tractors says, which works as a confidential filing cabinet into which members can upload documents to demonstrate compliance. Assessors can then review the documents ahead of the assessment to save time.

The last two months have seen 400 remote poultry assessments completed while 6,300 members in total have been assessed in this way. Thousands more assessments using the system are said to be in the pipeline.

The coronavirus has resulted in a number or re-inventions across industry sectors and, where this new of carrying out inspections is concerned, those taking part have recognized its benefits not only in overcoming current difficulties but also in solving longer-term issues such as biosecurity and geographic challenges. The new normal seems to be requiring all of us to work in different ways, however, in the case of farm inspections the new normal may, in fact, be a better normal.

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