In April 2016, the Specialty Crops Program’s Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) launched GroupGAP, a new food safety certification program that is part of our USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) suite of services. Our voluntary USDA GAP programs help verify that produce growers and handlers have taken measures to reduce the risk of contamination. Commercial buyers look for USDA GAP-certified suppliers to source safe specialty products. While larger operations can devote the resources needed to become GAP certified, some smaller entities cannot. Until now. GroupGAP allows farmers, food hubs, and marketing organizations of all sizes to band together and pool resources to achieve USDA GAP certification.
In the first year of the program, 9 groups representing 293 producers took part in GroupGAP. One was S Star, a group of 37 potato farms covering 30,000 acres that pack through a centralized warehouse. The company was originally establish in 2012 to help each supplier to the warehouse achieve GAP certification. In April 2016, Sandy Edwards, Amanda Meikle, Connie Ince, and Shyann Baker proposed the idea of GroupGAP certification to their members, and on October 14, 2016, S Star became the first single-commodity group to achieve GroupGAP certification.
Three internal auditors were trained to perform audits of each of the members. “By performing three internal audits of each grower throughout the growing season, we were able to identify and rectify potential problems before they became risks to food safety,” said group-leader Sandy Edwards.
GroupGAP also offered the group members much-needed flexibility. Throughout the process, growers worked directly with the trained staff, and adapted their audit plan and schedule to accommodate the busy schedules of both the auditors and farmers. “Group GAP worked so well for our farmers because we could do audits in the early morning, later in the evenings, and on the weekends. It didn’t fit the normal model and that worked for us,” Sandy added.
Before GroupGAP, the farms comprising S Star underwent USDA GAP audits individually at an average cost of $494 each. Under GroupGAP, 7 of the farms underwent GAP audits by USDA auditors, and all took part in a system audit of the Group’s Quality Management System and three internal audits for a cost of $182 per member.
Congratulations to S Star. And to GroupGAP for increasing market access for farmers, delivering more fresh food options to consumers, and providing strong verification of food safety practices.