While many growers are GAPs certified around Rich Hill, and several are around Stanberry, very few are located in communities around the produce auctions in Missouri. One grower nearby the 4 County Produce Auction obtained GAPs certification for his farm over the last 2 years, and agreed to share his story.
He started in the 2014 growing season, at the request of one buyer. It was only for a few specific crops: cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. There was a field available across the road from his farm, and it seemed simpler and faster to just certify that field, rather than the whole farm. Equicert was the company that was used because they were in the area. The cost was $500 and they conducted a Harmonized GAPs audit. To avoid having to certify the packing house, he harvested and packed the crops in the field. While keeping records for a field was far less than keeping them for a whole farm or when buildings are involved, it was a very good first step to learn with. The arrangement was beneficial for both the customer and his farm, as the certification opened a larger market for the farm’s products.
For 2015 he needed to rotate those crops to the side of the road with the farm buildings, so decided to GAP certify the entire farm. This would allow all the crops to be marketed as GAP certified. The inspection was set for the latter half of May, so he decided to try out an offer made in an article of Extension’s IPM Bulletin in Sept. Of 2012 “GAPs and How Extension Can Assist You”. The co-authors of this article went to the farm on May 12th to conduct a ‘mock inspection’, basically reviewing all the records and walking the farm, much as a real GAPs inspector would. We then provided our comments on what might be potential problems. In general the record book was in good order; it was obvious that having done this the previous year was helpful. There were numerous clipboards or similar in the strategic places where notes would be required, e.g. cleaning/sanitizing of the sorting table, or cleaning and stocking of the employee bathroom. Nonetheless, several concerns were identified:
For 2015 they used the USDA GAPs audit. First the good news, the GAPs inspection was passed, but required a corrective action. That is an important issue, you may have a problem, but you get a chance to fix it. The ‘automatic fail’ in this instance, was the well water being used to wash the produce, as well as for pesticide applications. This water is required to have no detectable E. Coli and the same for Total Coliform. While the water test had no E. Coli, Total Coliform was 30.
To remedy it, the well water was spiked with 1 gallon of household, chlorine bleach. It was then pumped out until the bleach smell dissipated. The water was tested the next day and one month later. These samples passed and the GAPs certification was granted.
What about the other concerns from the mock inspection? Did they help or were they raised by the GAPs inspector?
The GAPs inspector also required one additional action be taken: the dip tank in front of the washer was not to be used for any GAPs certified produce.
About how much did this cost you ask? The first inspection was just under $650. A follow up ‘site visit’ was required and cost $175. Additionally you have to factor in your time because time equals money. We didn’t get a time estimate for going through the process, but ongoing during the season they set up their records on a weekly basis and was done on Saturdays. They also had to update the harvest records on any packing day. Some growers who have become GAPs certified have said the process helped them become a better, maybe even more efficient grower? Was that true in this instance? Maybe, with the comment: "we used FSA (Farm Service Agency) maps for our field records and it is nice to have those for next years planning."
You might be wondering how water sampling was handled? (This was reviewed in a past article, May 2014 “Water Testing and GAPs") Midwest Labs of Omaha, NE sent kits (containers, forms and a shipping box) for water sampling. The grower also used them for both soil and foliar analysis. The samples were sent USPS Priority Mail. Contrary to statements about water samples needing to be there ‘the day following sampling’, it appears there is a bit more leeway here. If a sample took two days, it was acceptable, as long as it was kept cool with the use of an ice pack and outside temperatures were mild.
The buyer that spurred this certification in 2014 was pleased with the expansion of certification to the whole farm, as it indicated they were serious about food safety. The only other vegetable that was marketed as GAPs certified was cucumbers. Ironically it did not result in a noticeable price increase over other growers, nor did it seem that other buyers were very interested in GAPs certified fresh produce.
A few last comments were provided. The mock inspection seemed to be a worthwhile use of time. They will get the farm GAPs certified again for 2016 and it will likely take less time and have fewer overall costs. The inspector advised they get a copy of the audit checklist and do a self-audit to help aid in the inspection process .
REVISED: January 4, 2017