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transportation and marketing program

New GroupGAP Certification Brings New Opportunities for the Produce Industry

Excitement is building in the produce industry.  From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates.  The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements.

Local Food Systems at Work in the Driftless Area

So called because it was left untouched by retreating glaciers that flattened much of the Midwest, the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southwest Wisconsin, and bits of Minnesota and Illinois is home to more than just beautiful rolling hills. It’s also the site of inspiring efforts to develop a strong regional food economy. I had the honor of visiting the region in my first trip as Acting Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

With Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA has put local and regional food front and center over the last seven years. We realize that consumer demand for local food can create economic opportunities, help develop systems that bring healthy food to underserved communities, and better connect consumers with agriculture. Building these systems often brings together unlikely partners – farmers, economic development experts, local government, school officials and supply-chain businesses – in the pursuit of shared goals.

Puerto Rico Colabora con USDA para Fortalecer los Sistemas de Alimentos Locales

El estado libre asociado de Puerto Rico tiene solamente 100 millas de largo por 35 millas de ancho. La pequeña isla está llena de maravillas naturales, rica en cultura y abundante en agricultura. Aun así pocos se dan cuenta que gran parte de los alimentos consumidos por los residentes y visitantes provienen de otros lugares. A principios de este mes, la Dr. Myrna Comas Pagán, Secretaria de Agricultura de Puerto Rico, hizo una visita al Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA, por sus siglas en inglés). Ella llego para explorar maneras en cual mi agencia, el Servicio de Comercialización Agrícola (AMS, por sus siglas en inglés), y otras agencias en el departamento pueden ayudar a mejorar el sistema alimenticio local de la isla.

Aunque el valor de la producción agrícola de Puerto Rico ha llegado a $919 millones, un incremento de 14 por ciento en los últimos dos años, falta un sistema de distribución de productos locales en la isla. El sector local de agricultura apoya 6,500 trabajos pero aun ay mucho por hacer. Puerto Rico importa alimentos de 52 países diferentes que pueden dejar el sistema alimenticio vulnerable. Recientemente hubo un evento en cual un barco de carga con destino a Puerto Rico se extravió durante una tormenta de huracán, costándole las vidas a la tripulación, pero también dando por resultado la pérdida de 70 contenedores de alimentos.

Puerto Rico Works with USDA to Strengthen Local Food Systems

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is only 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. The small island is full of natural wonders, rich culture and bountiful agriculture. Yet few realize that much of the food eaten by residents and visitors alike comes from other places. Earlier this month, Puerto Rico Agriculture Secretary Dr. Myrna Comas Pagan made a visit to the USDA. She came to explore ways that my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and other agencies in the department can help improve the island’s local food system.  

Although the value of Puerto Rico’s agricultural production has reached $919 million, a 14 percent increase over the last two years, there is a lack of a distribution system for local produce on the island. The local agriculture sector is growing, supporting 6,500 jobs, but more still needs to happen.   Puerto Rico imports food from 52 different countries which can leave the food system vulnerable. A recent event highlighted this point when a Puerto-Rico bound cargo ship was lost in a hurricane, costing the lives of the crew, but also resulting in the loss of 70 containers of food.

GroupGAP: Food Safety Assurance for Growers and Buyers Big and Small

In the produce industry, food safety is front and center on everyone’s mind. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released some of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) final rules, and retailers are looking to buy from FSMA-compliant suppliers. If you’re a retailer or large produce buyer, there is exciting news about a program that verifies that suppliers are meeting your food safety requirements. After three years of successful trials, USDA recently previewed our plans to expand the GroupGap Pilot Program.

Many producers are aware of “Good Agricultural Practices,” or GAP audits. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) performs GAP audits, which are voluntary, third-party services that verify that farms are following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Big Help for Small Producers

For their communities, small farmers are anything but small. Their contributions are quite large – not only do they provide food for local residents – they also create jobs and economic opportunities.  However, retailer requirements and the cost of marketing can make it difficult for small producers to scale up and reach larger markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to remove those barriers by offering a number of services that help small and local producers grow and sustain their businesses.

In the produce industry, more and more retailers require suppliers to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, which verifies that the operation is following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration.  For small farmers, getting GAP certified can be difficult and expensive. To help offset some of these costs, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division and Transportation and Marketing Program are partnering with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to implement a Group GAP Pilot Project.

Grains, Trains and Global Success

Fall is harvest time and our rural communities are bustling with activity.  For American soybean farmers the days start in the early dawn, and they stay until the last light is gone, tending fields that seem to stretch to the end of the world.  But success for them relies on more than just growing a good crop.  Their soybeans must also move efficiently from the fields to the far corners of the world.

Helping farmers understand the importance and impact of transportation trends is one of the services provided by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).  AMS helps growers and exporters by gathering agricultural transportation data for a wide array of publications that are available to everyone on our agricultural transportation website.

On the Road to Success for Local and Regional Food

Rivers, roads and rails—the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. Finding the best path forward can be difficult as city traffic gets worse each year, frustrating commuters and thwarting deliveries. Also in the transportation mix are farmers traveling the same roads trying to bring the freshest produce to city markets.  With the $7 billion-per-year market for local and regional food continuing to grow, more and more goods are being transported along local routes.

Developing creative ways to navigate transportation challenges is critical for farmers and consumers alike to meet the increasing demand for local and regional food.  Farmers relying on local and regional food systems may not have the scale or capacity to use established food freight systems. That’s why USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has taken a fresh look at food distribution issues, especially for the local and regional markets.

Delivering Along the Food Value Chain

A recent trip back home to Louisiana sparked memories of a simpler time when old trucks full of fresh produce rumbled down dusty roads to deliver goods to the local market. The 2012 Census of Agriculture tells us that 50,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are now selling to local retailers and that 150,000 of them are selling their products directly to consumers. Although these farmers and ranchers are still using this direct approach, the agricultural industry is certainly more dynamic today.  This means that producers need to follow a strategic business model.

The reality is that food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer. Before it is served on the table, food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. My agency, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain, including farmers markets and food hubs. For example, we invest in projects that help farmers and businesses understand emerging trends, create new markets, and stimulate our nation’s rural economies.

Following the Rails: USDA Tracks Agricultural Exports Across the Border

Driving down a rural road, admiring the expansive fields of corn and soybeans, I stopped at a rail crossing to wait for what seemed like an endless train of cars filled with grain.  My idle mind wondered, where are all those tons of grain headed, where was its final destination?  For anyone else, it may just be curiosity. But for me and those who work in my division within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), it’s our job to answer those questions.

We understand that for stakeholders within the agricultural industry—farmers, grain mill operators, shippers and exporters—the answers are critical.  Sound business decisions require knowledge about what is happening with the transportation of agricultural products, both in the domestic and international marketplace.