Red Tractor has confirmed it is dropping plans to launch its green farming assurance standard in April.

The British food assurance body sparked uproar from farmers across the UK last year when it announced the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC) – an optional standard for farmers that meet certain environmental criteria.

Farmers feared the GFC would eventually evolve into a requirement for market access and would mean they foot the bill for implementing sustainability measures on behalf of supermarkets.

Following the backlash, Red Tractor halted the development of the GFC as the National Farmers Union (NFU) carried out a governance review into the organisation.

The probe, which was published last week, found Red Tractor was facing an “existential crisis” due to a lack of support from farmers.

The NFU and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) – both founding members of Red Tractor – have since called on the board to stop the development of the GFC.

In a joint statement, they said: “The UK Farming Unions and AHDB are very clear that the Greener Farms Commitment will be unable to command any level of support no matter what consultation is put in place.

“Resumption of work on the Greener Farms Commitment module would be extremely damaging to Red Tractor’s reputation.”

The bodies said the board needs “to begin from first principles in ‘full consultation mode’ and once trust has been re-established, to offer the best basis for propelling action on these issues”.

Red Tractor told the PA news agency on Friday that the GFC will not be launched on April 1.

The assurance body said it will be outlining its next steps ahead of the board meeting later this month after which it will give an update on how it plans to move forward.

It has not ruled out introducing a green standard in future, with chair Christine Tacon telling BBC Radio 4: “When we move forward with it again – and I’m not saying ‘if’, it is a ‘when’ – we’re doing it with the support and in a way that everyone is happy with so we do get to the right answer in the end.”

Leicestershire farmer Joe Stanley said announcing the GFC as a voluntary bolt-on without a premium and without properly consulting farmers was “wrong”.

He told the PA news agency: “What it was asking farmers to do at the behest of the retailers was to help them meet their own sustainability targets without paying for it, and then subsidise their shareholder returns.

“Fundamentally farmers are not being paid enough for the food they produce and it’s unsustainable,” he added.

“We do not have the money to invest in sustainability.”

Mr Stanley said that there has been growing discontent with assurance schemes amongst British farmers for years but the GFC was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

He joined calls for the body to start the process all over again and “consult farmers on how it might work for them”.

Mr Stanley also warned that the GFC would have “torpedoed” an emerging market where suppliers are paying farmers more to introduce environmental measures.

“Retailers would have said we can now get farmers to do this for free,” he said.

Meanwhile, Clive Bailye, a farmer from Lichfield, Staffordshire, argued that Red Tractor should not be involved in a green assurance scheme at all because the market for carbon and environmental credits needs to “evolve organically”.

“Supermarkets are very welcome to buy my carbon sequestration service or my ability to make a biodiversity net gain but that can happen in a free open market where they are bidding against the likes of Mastercard and Shell,” he said.

“That is the only way we will determine the true value of greener farming.”

Steve Ridsdale, a farmer based near Bielby, East Yorkshire, said there is now some uncertainty as to what will happen.

He said: “I think they will back down for now and they will turn to build on a new sustainability model from the beginning because they have to have it.

“But they’ve got to talk to us, they’ve got to get agreement from us, and they’ve got to find a way of paying for it.”

Elsewhere, Andrew Blenkiron, director at Euston Estate in Suffolk, said he would be “incredibly disappointed” by any decision to cancel the GFC and highlighted the fact that it was a voluntary standard.

“If we are not careful our customers will buy from elsewhere in the world from those who will produce to their requirements,” he said.

“Another great danger is that another assurance body will provide the conduit required from farm to retailer and that would simply undermine the 20-plus years of hard work that so many have put into the introduction and development of Red Tractor.”

In a statement, Red Tractor said the NFU review found that its governance was sound and that its Assured Food Standards board is “considering every aspect of the report carefully”.

“This process is clearly a priority and will be completed properly before any decisions are taken on next steps,” they said.

“The Governance Review is an essential opportunity for us to reflect and refresh the way Red Tractor delivers its role for all stakeholders.

“Balancing differing views across the supply chain is difficult at any time, but we hear loud and clear the level of frustration farmers feel in the current operating environment, and we will listen carefully and take these views into account.”