Small Acreage Farms Enlisting Organic and Good Agriculture Practices (SAFE O-GAPs),

Final Report for FW08-320

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $29,750.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Nancy Flores
New Mexico State University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Nancy Flores
new mexico state university
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Project Information

Abstract:

The consolidation of Good Agricultural Practices materials and review with collaborating producers to develop training materials and a manual for organic producers were the main focuses of this project. Additionally a tour of organic-certified and GAP-certified operations allowed for growers to openly discuss issues and observe an inspection in action. GAP presentations developed for this project were also translated into Spanish. Consolidated materials were used to update an NMSU extension GAP website. “Organic Good Agricultural Practices for New Mexico” provides organic growers with a point-by-point evaluation of a USDA GAP audit and gives recommendations to challenges faced by organic producers. Implementation of GAPs depends on the commitment of the producer, and they must find value in GAP-certification, but having appropriate resources and assistance is vital for full implementation of a food safety plan.

Introduction

Small-acreage (farmers’ market) and organic growers are concerned about food safety issues; however they lack management, time and financial resources to implement food safety programs like Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). The cost of the certification alone can be very substantial. Small-acreage growers moving their fresh produce through local farmers’ markets are conscience about food safety but need to take the final steps in an established food safety program such as GAPs.

Organic producers can easily apply GAP practices into their operations with some minor modification and management (1). In 2005, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service (NMSU-CES) completed a human pathogen risk assessment of New Mexico crops (2). The major finding of this study is that growers most at risk are small-acreage farmers because of their lack of resources and management. Additionally, only one outbreak when severe illness or death occurs can devastate a business and adversely affect an entire produce sector (3). Food-borne illness outbreaks have been linked to farm-level contamination of California lettuce and spinach, Guatemalan raspberries, Mexican strawberries and cantaloupe (4).

While highly publicized produce-related outbreaks raised consumer awareness of food safety problems, current data demonstrate that the proportion of food-borne illness outbreaks associated with handling of fresh produce is very low (5). However, to ensure a safe food supply, it is imperative that those who handle raw produce at every stage, from the field to the point of consumption, understand and implement safe handling practices to prevent contamination and outbreak of disease (6). Contamination sources and pathways have been identified that exist in a farming operation that could contaminate fresh fruit and vegetable crops (7). Not only are consumers at risk of food-borne illness from contaminated produce, but farm workers can become ill and then become reservoirs of Hepatitis (8) and Salmonella (9).

Since 2001 NMSU-CES has been an active collaborative partner with Cornell University by participating in GAP materials and program development and statewide presentations. NMSU-CES is well equipped to aid small acreage organic growers to fully implement a GAPs program.

References

1. Suslow, T. 2002. Postharvest Handling For Organic Crops. Publication 7254 University of California ANR Communication Services Website: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu.

2. Pennock, R.D. and Flores, N.C.,(2006) Report 26: Good Agricultural Practices: What Growers Should Know. Available on the Web at:
www.chiletaskforce.org and cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/taskforce/

3. Presentation Title: Trends in Food Safety from a California Perspective Presenter: Trevor V. Suslow, Extension Research Specialist. University of CA, Dept. of Vegetable Crops. tvsuslow@ucdavis.edu

4. GAPs Manual – Rangarajan, A., Bihn, E.A., Pritts, M.P. & Gravani, R.B. (2003). Food Safety Begins on the Farm (A Grower Self Assessment of Food Safety Risks). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Department of Food Science, Department of Horticulture.

5. Analysis of Produce Related Food borne Illness Outbreaks. (2004, April). Watsonville, CA: Alliance for Food and Farming. Retrieved from: http://www.foodandfarming.info/documents/85876_produce_analysis_604.pdf

6. U.S.D.A. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2001, September 30). Outbreaks associated with fresh produce. Incidence, growth, and survival of pathogens in fresh and fresh-cut produce. In Analysis and Evaluation of Preventive Control Measures for the Control and Reduction/Elimination of Microbial Hazards on Fresh and Fresh-Cut Produce. Retrieved from: www.cfsan.fda.gov/~comm/ift3-4a.html

7. Beuchat, L. R. (1998). Surface decontamination of fruits and vegetables eaten raw: A review. Food Safety Unit, World Health Organization. Retrieved from: www.foodsafetynetwork.ca/food/who-surface-decontam.pdf

8. Fiore, AE. Hepatitis A Transmitted by Food. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2004 ;38:705-15.

9. MMWR Weekly: Human Salmonella Isolates — United States, 1983 December 14, 1984 / 33(49);693-5

Project Objectives:

Several materials from other universities, state and federal agencies, and private auditing/certifying firms have been consolidated into one GAPs resource manual. This manual will be standardized with National Organic Program for organic practices forming the O-GAPs manual.

*Collaborating organic producers will be trained in current GAPs practices.

*Consolidated O-GAPs manual will also be standardized with the practices of collaborating organic producers.

*Collaborating organic producers implement O-GAPS by first conducting a risk assessment, then follow full implementation for at least one organic crop.

*Collaborating organic producers will pass a NM Department of Agriculture GAP audit during the following growing season.

*Collaborating organic producers will be tested on their knowledge and use of GAP practices before initial GAPs training, and they will evaluate the implementation of this program.

*Results will be demonstrated during an on-site organic producer field day associated with the NMSU-AES Research Center Field Day (Alcalde, NM) and at specialty crop conferences held throughout the state.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Don Bustos
  • Edward Velarde, Jr.

Research

Materials and methods:

1. GAP materials from other universities, state and federal agencies, and private auditing/certifying firms were collected and reviewed by collaborating producers and project coordinators over a series of meetings.

2. Reviewed materials were consolidated into GAPs power point presentations for workshops. Collaborating organic producers were trained in current GAPs practices.

3. Collaborating organic producers were asked to conduct a risk assessment, then follow full implementation for at least one organic crop. These same organic producers performed a NM Department of Agriculture GAP audit.

4. Results were demonstrated during an on-site organic producer field day associated with the NMSU-AES Research Center Field Day located in Alcalde, NM.

5. Collaborating organic producers and project coordinators will standardize GAPs materials in a consolidated manual.

Research results and discussion:

The process of consolidating of GAP materials and review with collaborating producers was tedious and very intense. There were several discussions that were not very productive and led to a stall in the progress of this project. We decided to do a tour with growers at two production facilities; one organic and one transitional, with both conventional and organic production. The tour at the organic facility was led by an organic certifier explaining what they look for on-site, as well as the documentation needed for each section of the inspection. The tour at the conventional GAPs-certified facility started with hand-washing using a portable field sanitation unit and a discussion of how the audit begins with the auditor. Growers were able to review the facilities GAP plan and records that are maintained for the operation. This particular grower felt that by
utilizing GAPs in his operation he was a better prepared and able to use information for business planning and financial strategy.
The farm tours were very productive and led to discussions among the growers about how to address each type of production model. It is not to say that organic practices and GAP practices are mutually exclusive. These programs are very compatible and should be used as management tools. One thing that was very clear is that implementation of GAPs depends on the commitment of the producer, and they must find value in GAPs certification like they do for organic certification. In other words, the market has to reward the producer for fully implementing GAPs and certifying through a third party.

GAP power point presentations were assembled from various sources and used for several presentations at specialty crop conferences and even translated into Spanish used in a Farmer-to-Farmer project. We delivered GAP presentations for various audiences throughout the state, including organic producers. These presentations allowed for discussion about the lack of GAP implementation. The main issue was time to develop the policies and creative ways to manage recordkeeping.

Developing a manual to address both organic and GAP practices in one document was an ambitious endeavor that took several drafts that were never really accepted. The main issue is that there is a group of standards for NOP but not so much for GAPs. The standards for GAPs remain a moving target. In the end, it was decided to evaluate each point of the USDA GAP audit and give some recommendation specific to organic producers in areas that may be a challenge to that specific type of operation.

Of the three collaborating producers, only one fully implemented a GAP plan with organic produce. This producer was already GAP-certified for apples and has contracts with several distributors. One producer stopped his agricultural operation and returned to the workforce as a carpenter. The third was an organic producer who hired an intern to perform risk assessments and work on the GAP plan for the operation. However, the intern did not finish the project. Although interested, this operator has not completed a GAP plan.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Completed:

Nancy Flores Session 1D: “Good Agricultural Practices Impacting Small Acreage Farmers in New Mexico” presentation was presented at a National Small Farm Conference in September 2009. Information was published in Proceedings of the 5th National Small Farm Conference September 15-17, 2009 Springfield, IL.

GAPs Food Safety Workshops:

“GAP’s and worker protection” June 18, Thursday: Alcalde, NM.
“GAP’s for Organic producers Field Day” August 5 Wednesday: Alcalde, NM

Powerpoint presentations:

Del Jimenez “GAP and Food Safety” 2008 to 2011. Various workshops and conferences throughout NM, AZ and CO.

Del Jimenez “Buenos Practicas Agricola” 2010. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Nancy Flores “Food Safety” 2008 to 2011. Various workshops and conferences throughout NM.

Websites:

GAPs program for New Mexico http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/foodtech/gap-nm.html

In Process:

“Organic Good Agricultural Practices for New Mexico” provides organic growers with a point-by-point evaluation of a USDA GAP audit and gives recommendations on challenges faced by organic producers. The manual will be reviewed and published February 2012.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The farm tour demonstrated farmer’s interest in both GAPs and organic production methods. It was interesting to see them recognize each other as resources within their own community.

Development of the GAP presentations that were eventually translated into Spanish has led to collaboration with trainers and agricultural producers in other countries.

The two NMSU websites that are dedicated to providing information on GAP implementation were updated as a result of this project. One has background history on GAPs along with signage and forms that growers can modify for use on their farms. The other has collaborative work done with the University of Hawaii, in which a short video and poster were developed illustrating methods to implement GAPs.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Agriculture producers both large and small recognize the need to follow GAP practices even if they do not receive certification through a third party.

Future Recommendations

As educators, we enjoy powerpoint presentations and lecture style teaching. The impact of the tour was very powerful and possibly more important than anything we could present in a lecture. The discussion was dynamic and growers seemed to be encouraged about the process of implementation. We should have followed up with these growers with weekly meeting and facilitated directly the implementation of GAPs. Unfortunately we were only able to give growers information to perform their own risk assessments and steps for implementation. However, this type of program needs a coach to keep people motivated and provide guidance when they hit a snag for full development for a GAPs plan.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.