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Small farmers would be hit hardest by USDA food safety proposal
Buckeye Farm News
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) is voicing concerns about a proposed marketing agreement that could set unworkable standards for Ohio produce growers.
OFBF has received many calls from small and medium sized growers, organic growers, representatives of the Amish community and more who are concerned that a California marketing agreement for leafy greens could become the national standard.
The voluntary standards are designed to ensure food safety and could become a nationally recognized seal of approval for leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce. Growers who are unable to comply with the standards could be shut off from potential buyers.
“From what we understand, many medium and small growers in California also have major concerns with the agreement. That being the case, how can we possibly expect these practices to be workable for Ohio farmers,” said Lisa Schacht, a farm market operator who provided Ohio Farm Bureau’s testimony during a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture Hearing in Columbus.
Because California’s produce industry is structured much differently than Ohio’s and often includes much larger farms, OFBF said any national agreement must be tailored to the needs of individual states.
“I know that the proposed leafy green rule does not contain specific on-farm practices, and this is unfortunate because we don’t have any specifics to react to,” Schacht said. “But the California leafy green agreement does have specifics and is very often referred to as the example of where this national agreement is headed.”
Among OFBF’s concerns are California’s requirements that deal with water use, animal intrusion, field sanitation, harvest requirements and soil amendments. These specifics were designed around some California cultural practices and are not conducive to Ohio.
“Under this agreement, small growers could easily be relegated to selling only at farmers markets,” said Doug Doohan, fruit and vegetable specialist for Ohio State University Extension and horticulture researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). “Their ability to grow their business and make any kind of profit could be severely curtailed.”
Also at risk is the viability of Ohio’s produce auctions, which have been successful in allowing small growers, particularly the Amish, to sell produce to bulk buyers.
“Under the proposed new rules, these auctions would likely go out of business given the complexity of the new rules and associated costs that would drive buyers elsewhere,” Schacht said.
Ohio farmers are also at a distinct disadvantage because they must spread compliance costs over a shorter growing season, compared to states such as California, which have an extended growing season and can spread costs over the entire year.
“In looking at the audit sheets for California, as a small grower, I don’t see where I will find the time, let alone the dollars to pay for this type of program. As I said before, I already maintain a series of good management practices on my farm, but how much more paperwork should I be expected to complete and at what cost?” Schacht asked. “I fear this proposal, as it now stands, will only serve to drive Ohio produce farmers out of business.”
Read the full comments at the attachment above.