The coming of uniform traceability standards will affect local produce suppliers, just as it will colleagues who ship nationally, marketing agents say.
There’s little choice, said Ed Odron, owner of Odron Produce Marketing & Consulting Services in Stockton, Calif.
“I think if they’re dealing with chain stores, when you’re like a Kroger or Safeway or SaveMart or Raley’s and I’ve got guys growing for me in Brentwood and one has a bar code and one doesn’t, I’d buy from the guy who has the bar code,” Odron said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a huge amount of pressure, but as some local farmers get into these things with packaging, I’d sure go with the one that has traceability.”
It’s “not a big deal” to put a bar code on the side of a box, Odron said.
“The big deal was keeping track, so if it came out of a certain lot, the bar code identified it,” he said. “You need a trail from the retailer’s cooler to the box to the field to the place where it came from, so you know that.”
Local produce suppliers have to prepare for a bit more expense in implementing a program, Odron noted.
“You probably won’t see it in the farmers market, but you’ll see the local growers happening with that because it’s easier to do. It costs a couple of pennies, but it’s easier in the long run,” he said.
There is help available to local producers who want to get in sync with the Produce Traceability Initiative, said David Visher, a senior analyst with the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at the University of California-Davis.
Salinas, Calif.-based Top 10 Produce LLC, a local grower-focused company, has established a program that complies with PTI, which currently requires traceability at the case level. Top 10 says its growers have the ability to trace at the case level only or to the item level for a fixed annual fee. The company says it licenses only independent growers and its marketing is focused on introducing its growers to their customers at the point of sale, using extended packaging marketing.
“It’s quite inexpensive to the producer,” Visher said. “I don’t see that as a conflict. There might be a conflict around the fact that it tends to be mid-sized or smaller producers who are attempting to access this particular market niche.”
The onset of standards doesn’t appear to present substantial problems to small-scale growers who deal directly with customers, said Adam Watson, produce marketing specialist, Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Frankfort.
“It’s less an issue in Kentucky than others because we do have a lot of direct store deliveries, rather than going through mid-level wholesalers,” he said. “It’s less complex for us. There’s fewer hands and much simpler picture. But it is something that our larger growers are having to consider.”