(Oct. 12) In a move that brings Arizona’s Yuma winter lettuce deal closer to food safety standards in place in California, an Arizona state agency has established a leafy greens marketing agreement.

The Arizona Leafy Green Products Shipper Marketing Agreement, created Oct. 2, initiates a voluntary program to set up standards and procedures for growing, handling and processing. Although almost all handlers in California are members of that state’s agreement — and many of them also grow crops in Yuma — Arizona’s standards have yet to be written.

“We’re hopeful that they will adopt the same practices and policies that the California program has done,” said Joe Pezzini, chairman of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement and vice president of operations of Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif. “But that will be up to the board (members in Arizona) to decide.”

Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the California agreement, said the organization stands ready to help Arizona any way it can.

“We want the creation and implementation of the Arizona marketing agreement to work as seamlessly as possible with ours,” he said.

After a Sept. 13 meeting in Yuma with shippers, the Arizona Department of Agriculture decided there was enough support for it. Jim Nowlin, assistant director of the department’s citrus fruit and vegetable division, said he approved the creation of the agreement Oct. 2.

“Although Arizona’s unique climate makes our produce much less vulnerable to food safety issues, the leafy greens industry is being proactive in preventing foodborne illnesses from occurring,” Nowlin said.

He said the two shippers that initiated the agreement were Tom Russell, president of Pacific International Marketing, Salinas, Calif., and C.R. Waters, farm manager in Yuma for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., Oviedo, Fla.

Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, which was instrumental in drafting California’s marketing agreement, emphasized the need for continuity between the two agreements, because most of California’s leafy greens grower-shippers were also heavily involved in Arizona production.

“They have 32 signatories out of about 40 and a number of people still want to get in, but they missed the deadline,” Nassif said Oct 10. “They’ll have to be voted in during the elections on the 15th of this month.”