Small-scale farmers are continuously seeking ways to add-value to their operations. Local farmers grow fresh fruits and vegetables by using natural or organic practices to increase value. Another common practice is to process food products and provide customers with canned goods, breads, dairy products, and other value-added foods. It is less common; however, for small-scale farmers to utilize a Good Agriculture Practice or GAP audit to scale-up and increase revenue.
What is a GAP Certification?
A Good Agriculture Practice (GAP) certification is a volunteer process in which the USDA or other third-party agency will audit a farm’s production process to ensure that best practices are implemented to reduce the likelihood of a harmful microorganism contamination. The audit consists of ten focus areas that include:
Worker Health & Hygiene
Worker Food Safety Training
Field and/or Greenhouse Production Practices
Process/ Store Procedures
Traceability/ Recall Procedures
How does a GAP Certification Add-Value to Farming Operations?
GAP Certification Provides Small-Scale Farmers Access to Wholesale Distributors
This certification is not a hoax. It was established in the 1980’s by the USDA and is now considered industry standard by the fresh fruit and vegetable wholesale distribution industry. Most distributors today will not accept produce that is not GAP certified. The reasoning is risk. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) food borne illness outbreaks have created an over $15 billion-dollar economic burden. Almost half of the outbreaks are directly tied to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. Farmers can reduce risk and increase market potential with a GAP certification.
The FDA is Mandating Farm Food Safety Implementation for Small-Scale Farmers
As of 2015, the FDA has mandated the Food Safety Modernization Act under the Produce Safety Rule. This new rule mandates that all fresh fruit and vegetable farms with a minimum average annual revenue of $25,000 to implement best practices that reduce the likelihood of a harmful microorganism contamination. The farms covered by the rule are required to undergo grower training and keep documentation that ensures compliance with mandated requirements. Audits began in 2017, starting with the larger operations. These FDA audits are annual and required to maintain business relations with markets other than direct to consumer.
Unfortunately, this FDA mandated audit does not grant a farmer access into distributor markets. They are still required to take the extra steps to get a GAP certification. This is the main difference between the two audits. The FDA is working with the USDA and other organizations to collaborate and align the new regulations with the existing GAP certification process. The goal is to ensure that farms with a GAP certification are protected against unnecessary regulation.
How Does a Farmer get A GAP Certification?
Farmers seeking access to wholesale distributors or to just implement best practices for their fresh fruit and vegetable operation should download the FREE GAP certification checklist offered on the USDA website. This will allow the farmer to conduct a “Risk Assessment” and begin the implementation process to prepare for a GAP audit. The farmer will then need to create a food safety manual that includes all required documentation needed to pass a GAP audit. The audit requires the farm to designate one “food safety manager” (usually the main farmer or farm hand) to maintain the manual and to undergo food safety training. Once the records are compiled and the employees are properly trained, the farm is ready to be audited. The USDA GAP website offers contact information to a local auditor.
Need Additional Assistance?
Farmers work an average of 50-60 hours each week. It is common for a farmer to get tied down in the daily rigor and unexpected challenges. Not to fret. There are services out there to get the farmer prepped, audited, and on their way to increase their farm’s revenue. GSS Group LLC is a small business that focuses on GAP certification preparation programs for small-scale farmers. The company connects farmers with real people who write-up required documentation and train
farmers, and their employees, on how to use their new manual and farm food safety processes.
Reach out! Connect with GSS Group to learn more about GAP certification and how it can increase a farm's revenue within one growing season.