Wholesalers and retailers in the heart of America can’t keep up with demand for locally grown produce, but a lack of growers isn’t necessarily the problem.

Rather, a lack of growers with adequate food safety programs is the biggest challenge to meeting orders for local produce according to several sources in the central U.S.

Representatives from Associated Wholesale Grocers, Market Fresh Produce, Greenberg Fruit Co., Balls Food Stores, C&C Produce, Liberty Fruit Co. and Keith Connell Inc. all said they have food safety requirements for their grower-suppliers.

The wholesalers and retailers also said there are more local growers they would like to use, but they won’t budge on the food safety requirements.

“Many of them are doing it, they’re just not documenting it,” said Scott Danner, chief operating officer for Liberty Fruit Co., Kansas City, Kan.

Brent Bielski said new local growers seem to be popping up all the time, but as general manager for Greenberg Fruit Co., Omaha, Neb., he just can’t do business with them unless they have food safety plans that include hazard analysis and critical control point measures.

At C&C Produce, North Kansas City, Mo., vice president Nick Conforti said the company requires all its growers to have GAP certification and third-party audits.

“I’d rather miss a sale than be the company that gets someone sick,” Conforti said, adding that the company recently completed a two-day inspection for a BRC global standard food safety audit.

Similarly, produce broker Keith Connell, owner of Keith Connell Inc., Stilwell, Kan., said most of his customers require his company to have insurance to cover food safety issues.

For Kansas City, Kan.-based Associated Wholesale Grocers, which serves more than 2,500 retailers in the central U.S., food safety practices are mandatory for all growers regardless of size or location, said Gary Myracle, executive director of produce field procurement.

Myracle said AWG requires growers to have third-party audits for field and packing operations.

One way some smaller local growers are dealing with food safety requirements is to band together, such as the cantaloupe growers who formed the Rocky Ford Growers Association in southeast Colorado.

Myracle said he is seeing similar moves throughout the central U.S. as smaller growers figure out how to share the costs of pre-cooling and packing while enhancing food safety measures.

Mike Kemp, vice president for brand development at Market Fresh Produce, Nixa, Mo., said the company’s strict standards for its grower partners include 100% traceability.

“We work with growers to help them meet our standards for food safety because local is becoming more and more popular, and we know we are going to need additional suppliers,” he said.