From salad greens to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up everywhere from grocery stores to our kids’ school lunch plates. Helping the produce industry meet this local food demand and to meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) now offers a new GroupGAP certification program for smaller growers. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
Excitement is building in the produce industry. From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates. The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements. Read more »
NRCS Resource Conservationist Joe Heller in residue-covered vegetable field in New York. Leaving the plant residue in place reduces soil erosion, increases soil organic matter and overall soil health.
Getting people together to talk can result in great ideas.
In June, USDA hosted 100 farmers, ranchers, retailers and producers in Chester, New York, in the Hudson Valley, to discuss opportunities and challenges in organic production, and to share information on USDA programs and services available to organic producers and processors.
Wholesalers and retailers at the meeting all had a common challenge – keeping up with increasing market demands for organic food. Organic retail sales continue to grow at double-digit rates each year. In 2014, the market reached $39 billion in U.S. sales alone. That level of demand means a lot of opportunities for organic producers, as well as those in the process of transitioning to organic production. Read more »
Representatives of the database development team (from left to right) are: Jennifer Tucker (USDA), Indu Shekhar (Harmonia), Aleksey Gasnikov (Harmonia), Dirk Otto (Intact), Manisha Amdiyala (Harmonia), Stacy Swartwood (USDA), Swathy Mudhagouni (Harmonia), Kristin Tensuan (USDA), and Thomas Lorber (Intact).
If you have accessed the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) list of certified organic operations recently, you may have noticed a new look to the site, and new ways to search for organic operations. These changes reflect an early release of the Organic INTEGRITY Database, a system funded by the 2014 Farm Bill and built by the AMS National Organic Program and Information Technology Service with support from Intact and Harmonia Holdings Group.
The changes you see on the site are only a small part of the database development project. For example, underlying the new site is a brand new classification system (or taxonomy) for categorizing products that carry USDA organic certification. Previously, organic certifiers reporting farm and business information to USDA submitted a single text list of certified products for each operation. Certifiers reported data differently and there was no method to catch spelling or spacing problems. For example, one listing included the item “grapechickenapples.” An interesting appetizer or, a big data quality problem! Read more »
Under Secretary Ed Avalos (right) with AMS Associate Administrator Rex Barnes (middle) visit with producers during their visit to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction.
Finding new ways to market the safety and quality of your food is the key to success in the agricultural industry. This is especially true for our small and mid-sized growers who are looking to expand to various outlets. These growers are now turning to produce auctions as a way to sell their food to a wider range of customers such as retail wholesale buyers and farmers markets outside their local communities.
In a recent trip to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton, Va., I saw approximately 400 growers use this auction to share their bountiful harvest. Taking place several times a year, the largest wholesale auction in Virginia is an excellent alternative market for small growers. Prospective buyers bid intensely to procure large lots of fruits, vegetables, flowers, bedding plants, trees and shrubs, fall decor (pumpkins, mums, gourds), and compost, to name a few. Read more »
USDA Under Secretary Ed Avalos led the panel discussion that talked about the success of the GroupGAP Pilot Program and looked ahead to the full program’s official launch later this spring.
From small, family farms to large food production companies, food safety is a top priority for the folks who feed our nation and put food on tables around the globe. Participating in programs like USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), is one way that farmers and producers of all sizes can demonstrate to buyers that they are adhering to industry food safety standards. By making this program more accessible to businesses of all sizes, USDA is creating opportunities for our nation’s small and mid-sized farmers.
Last week I traveled to Atlanta, Ga., for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Fresh Summit to discuss the expansion of our GroupGAP Program this coming spring. The program is an expansion of our Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Audit Program, which provides third-party certification services to verify that operations are following industry-recognized food safety practices as well as recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).The pilot was supported by funding and technical expertise from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Read more »
“The GroupGAP framework enabled very small farms to access wholesale markets by providing an umbrella of expert and peer-to-peer technical support,” said Jeff Farbman, Sr. Program Associate at Wallace Center. This distributed the administrative burden of recordkeeping, and making the most effective use of resources on and off the farm.” Photo courtesy of the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange.
In the spring of 2016, USDA will add the GroupGAP Audit Program to the list of third-party auditing services provided by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Audit Program, performed by the agency’s Specialty Crops Inspection Division, verifies that operations are following industry-recognized food safety practices as well as recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
By rolling this program out to groups, rather than individual farms, this new program will increase market opportunities for farmers and buyers alike. The expansion of the GroupGAP certification follows the completion of a multi-year pilot, the fruits of a cross-cutting collaboration between USDA, small and mid-scale producers, nonprofit organizations, and diverse food system stakeholders across the nation. Read more »