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More producers considering voluntary GAP certification

RICHMOND—In addition to larger farms that wholesale their produce, some smaller growers who sell directly to the public are seeing more reasons to become Good Agricultural Practices-certified.

Amy Hicks grows organic produce on her Charles City County farm and sells it at farmers’ markets, through subscriptions and to local grocers.

While she has been certified organic since 2000, she is not GAP-certified.

“Being certified organic adds value to my operation, so I will probably become GAP-certified soon because I feel like that would add more value to my operation,” she said.

Jim Saunders of Saunders Brothers in Nelson County grows peaches, apples and Asian pears, along with some vegetables, to sell at his family’s farm market and area farmers’ markets and to re-wholesalers.

“We are not GAP-certified either but hope to be by mid-July,” Saunders said.

He and Hicks spoke Feb. 26 at Virginia’s 2013 Local Foods Network Conference.

GAP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture audit verification program that focuses on best agricultural practices to verify that farms are producing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible. The program currently is voluntary.

Tom Smith, who works with GAP audit verification for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said retailers “are really driving the GAP machine. Some stores are requesting that producers obtain GAP certification to sell to them.”

Saunders said he has been encouraged by apple buyers to become certified.

“We feel it’s inevitable,” he said. “It’s like having your ID and showing it to the police. Being able to show the GAP certification hopefully will open up more doors.”

Hicks said she attended a GAP certification workshop and found the information useful.

“We’ve never had a complaint or health or safety concern, but it’s always in the back of my mind,” she said. “Going to the GAP workshop is helpful. There’s a lot of good information.”

Saunders said he found that he is meeting some GAP requirements already.

“We, too, have never had a problem, but it is always a concern,” he said. “We promote wholesome, good products and want to sell the safest products consumers can get.”

Wythe Morris, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Carroll County, said producers should look at GAP certification as part of doing business.

“The two best marketing tools you have are local products and safe products,” Morris said. “GAP certification is all about trying to fix sanitation issues before they happen.”

Contact Sara Owens, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1133.

 

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