ADA rolls out voluntary training program focused on building an understanding of good agricultural practices. This article will appear in the May 2011 issue of Arizona Agriculture.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture’s (ADA) Agricultural Consultation and Training Program and the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension Service are rolling out a new Good Handling Practices and Good Agricultural Practices (GHP/GAP) Training and Certification Cost-Share Program for food safety.
As food safety is a shared responsibility, the training portion of the program will focus on certification of food safety practices from a company-wide standpoint including those involved in the harvest and handling of fresh produce. The majority of the curriculum will focus on building an understanding of good agricultural practices and the preparation for a 3rd-party audit certification. Topics that will be covered include worker health and hygiene, water use, postharvest water use, soil amendments, cleaning and sanitation, traceability, recall, crisis management and other important practices.
Participants in the class will learn how to implement change and be asked to create a produce safety plan specific to their individual business or company which will include a mock audit. Case studies and examples will be provided and discussed. Quizzes will be included as part of the curriculum. The two-day training is provided at no cost to participants.
“To me, this program appears to fit all shapes and sizes of Arizona farms, is voluntary and helps you prepare your farm to qualify for the annual certification,” says Arizona Farm Bureau Marketing Director Julie Murphree, who partnered with her parents on a cotton, wheat and alfalfa farm through 2005. Murphree took the pilot training to get a feel for what the program offers. “The training does not guarantee you will pass certification, but it’s valuable in having you reassess your farming practices to make sure you’re following good production practices. I learned a tremendous amount and it made me respond seriously about food safety.”
After the GHP/GAP training portion, which will help farmers either reinforce their current food safety practices or help establish a set of practices in their farming operation, a farmer can go through the audit process to be certified for one year under the GHP/GAP certification and apply for cost-share funds. The cost-share program is designed to help defray some of the costs related to a successful audit.
“We are very pleased to offer this program in collaboration with the University. We expect this food-safety program to be beneficial to not only growers, but consumers as well,” said ADA Director, Don Butler.
Applications are accepted and approved by the Arizona Department of Agriculture on a first-come, first-served basis. Reimbursements will cover 75% of all costs associated with one successful United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) GHP/GAP audit, up to a maximum of $750 per year. Participation in the USDA GHP/GAP audit program is completely voluntary. Costs exceeding $750 are not eligible for reimbursement. It is recommended that potential applicants apply for this funding as soon as their audit is approved and payment is verified. In the event of limited funds available, preference will be given to complete applications received with the earliest approval date.
“Food safety protocols should be created by the food industry in the form of sound practices, and USDA’s GHP/GAP program does this,” says Arizona Farm Bureau Administrator Jim Klinker. “The food safety protocols should be workable, flexible, verifiable, backed by science and integrity and applicable to all size farming operations. Such GHP/GAP standards and these types of industry standards in general with consistency create and strengthen food markets because they inspire confidence and security.”
A business/individual is eligible to apply for reimbursement as soon as their USDA GHP/GAP audit has been approved. Applicants must fully complete the necessary application and be able to show verification of audit approval. Qualified applicants may only receive funding for one successful audit per Federal Fiscal Year (FFY). To qualify for reimbursement, applicants must have successfully completed an approved USDA audit on or between October 1, 2010 and September 30, 2011. Reimbursements will not be given for costs associated with a failed audit.
Already there has been quite a bit of interest in the program. More and more, schools and restaurants are trying to buy locally produced fruits and vegetables to serve to students and customers. Producers doing business with these schools and restaurants need some type of safety certification to meet the terms of their contracts. Direct market farmers have an opportunity to certify and even have the cost of certification reduced through the GHP/GAP cost-share program.
Information about the GHP/GAP certification training portion of the program, offered by the University of Arizona, is available here.