Monday, March 26, 2012

Strawberry Update: March 2012

I have been visiting with strawberry growers over the past couple of weeks and the crop looks good. Growth is not as vigorous as we usually see for this time of year, but the color is good. Some growers are reporting lots of blooms without abundant foliage. If you are a strawberry producer, what are you seeing?

Above: Strawberry plant in Leicester (Buncombe County) taken March 14

Above: Strawberry plant in Mills River (Henderson County) taken March 21

In addition, I have been seeing two spotted spider mites, and the populations have been over the economic threshold which is 5 mites/leaflet in a sample of 10 leaflets/acre. To learn more about two spotted spider mite thresholds and management, please review Dr. Hannah Burrack's blogpost from March 1, What to watch for: strawberry update.

In addition, don't forget to watch out for the spotted wing drosophila. With the warm temperatures we are experiencing this season, it is possible that we may see these pests in our strawberry crop. It is a very good idea for you to consider setting out traps and scouting for this pest. To learn more about the spotted wing drosophila, trapping and monitoring, identification, management and the monitoring network visit Dr. Burrack's blog:

Friday, March 23, 2012

USDA mulls tougher organic inspection rules

The Packer

Federal officials are considering how to implement unannounced inspections of certified organic operations and beef up qualification criteria for inspectors, at the recommendation of the National Organic Standards Board.

In a March 21 memo to the NOSB, the deputy administrator of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, responded to those and other recommendations the standards board made at its 2011 fourth-quarter meeting.

Recommendations for inspector qualifications are:

•A baseline pre-requisite expertise for initial organic inspectors;
•Continuing education requirements for inspectors; and
•Accreditation criteria for certifying agents to ensure adequate oversight.

McEvoy said in the memo that the NOP will use the recommendation to develop baseline criteria. He also said NOP has commissioned “additional work in this area” with the International Organic Inspectors Association.

In response to the NOSB recommendation for unannounced inspections, McEvoy said the NOP will “explore ways to implement inspection requirements to enhance organic integrity.”

The standards board had three specific recommendations regarding unannounced inspections, which the board members contend would help “uphold organic integrity” for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification seal.

The standards board wants mandatory unannounced inspections for at least 5% of certified operations each year. The board recommended the inspections could be random, risk-based or the result of a complaint or investigation.

The scope of unannounced inspections, as recommended by the NOSB, could be limited, with the collection of samples depending on individual situations. The NOSB recommended that an unannounced “full inspection” could serve as the annual on-site inspection for a certified operation.

The NOSB also recommended that the NOP regulate material review organizations. Currently NOP has accreditation processes for third-party organic certifiers for crops, livestock, handling and wild harvest, but not for the review of materials used in organic operations.

Members of the standards board recommend that accreditation of material review organizations include:

•A requirement that they use the NOP material classification guidance — which is still in development — to determine whether a material is synthetic or non-synthetic;
•Implementation of a quality management system with detailed review protocols and policies as required by ISO Guide 65 accreditation standards;
•Mandatory use of the NOP’s guidance for permitted generic substances, which is under development;
•A requirement that part of their financing come from manufacturers of products seeking review; and
•Adoption of the appeals process used by certifying agents.

The standards board also recommended that material review organizations be subject to compliance and enforcement actions of the NOP.

McEvoy’s memo did not indicate whether the NOP would develop an accreditation process for material review organizations. He merely said the NOP would report back to the NOSB “on how we plan to proceed with these recommendations.”

GAP compliance critical for trust in local produce, study says

Tom Karst

The Packer

Growers marketing local food should be prepared to implement good agricultural practices if they want to assure long-term consumer and retail demand, according to researchers at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“What we found was the trend seems to be that Pennsylvania supermarkets are both interested in increasing sales of local produce but also are going to increasingly hand down more stringent expectations that will require growers to verify their compliance with on-farm food safety standards,” said Daniel Tobin, author of the study and graduate student at Penn State.

The study involved 15 Pennsylvania companies with a total of 628 supermarkets in the state.

The research asked a representative from each of the participating supermarkets to indicate their current (2009) and projected (2012) policies on GAPs. The survey found that in 2009, only four (27%) companies required either GAP training or certification. The research found that by 2012, however, 10 of the 15 (67%) supermarkets said they intend to require either GAP training or third party certification for suppliers.

The majority of supermarkets taking part in the research said they intended to increase purchases of local produce in 2012.

Seven of the companies (47%) indicated they would buy the same amount of local produce in 2012 as they had in 2009, while eight (53%) indicated that they would purchase more local produce by 2012.

None of the retailers planned to buy less local produce.

All the supermarkets that required either training or certification said they intend to purchase more local produce in 2012.

Only one of the 15 companies said it communicates to consumers that the local produce it sells has been inspected for on-farm food safety.

Tobin said there are no reliable figures on the percent of growers in Pennsylvania who have implemented GAPs or undergone third-party certification. The expectation is that GAPs will become required.

“Whether mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act or the private sector, GAP compliance through third-party certification will likely become the norm for most growers, regardless of farm size, location, or financial status,” according to the study.

A separate study found that 87.6% of Pennsylvania consumers placed high importance on knowing whether the produce they bought had been inspected by the government for on-farm food safety. In addition, 86.6% strongly agreed they would have fewer concerns about produce contamination if they
produce they bought had been inspected by the government.

In general, the authors said the research showed consumers do not currently feel assured that the produce they are purchasing is safe.