A growing number of California avocado grower-shippers are certified or are in the process of being certified for good agricultural practices.

The Irvine-based California Avocado Commission launched a program to help growers complete a GAP inspection about a year ago, and growers started achieving certified status late last year.

Gaining more acreage

All of the major handlers have bought into the program, and by early February, up to 15% of the state’s avocado acreage had been certified, said Ken Melban, the commission’s director of issues management.

The commission has not set a specific acreage goal, but Melban said the organization would like to see “a sizable amount of acreage” certified by the end of year.

“We’re very pleased with how the industry is tracking on it,” he said.

Consumers, retailers and the federal government are driving the process, he said. The commission is not mandating the inspection.

The commission has developed a policy and procedures manual to help handlers become GAP certified, he said.

The program focuses on key areas to mitigate and reduce potential bacterial contamination, including human contact, animals, soil and inputs, such as water.

The commission believes so strongly in the value of the GAP certification that it has set aside funds to reimburse participating growers up to $300 toward the cost of the audit.

Minimal modifications

Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International LLC has signed onto the program, said Jose Tostado, director of field operations.

The company only had to make a few modifications to its procedures to comply with the GAP program.

“It wasn’t something drastic — that really was very different from what we were doing,” Tostado said.

Much of the process consisted of ensuring that documentation is on file, he said.

“It’s another expense,” he said, but it could be worthwhile down the road as more buyers demand that their suppliers implement good agricultural practices, he said.

Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc. in Fallbrook, Calif., is making sure it complies with good agricultural practices as it completes a remodeling program, said partner Bob Lucy.

The company’s packinghouse and its growers are abiding by the GAPs, he said.

The firm has hired Gerardo Huerta to help its growers ensure that they are in compliance.

The process doesn’t require jumping though a lot of hoops, Lucy said, “just diligently keeping track of records.”

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. also involved in the program.

“The Calavo GAP team and some of our major growers helped lead the process,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing.

As of early February, more than 25% of the company’s large growers were certified, and Wedin expects 85% of Calavo’s California volume to GAP certified by July.

“We’ve made some tremendous progress,” he said.

Industry takes the lead

Many of Temecula-based Eco-Farms Corp.’s groves have been certified as part of an ongoing program, said Steve Taft, president and chief executive officer.

“It’s a must,” Taft said, adding that it’s better that the industry take the lead than the government.

“Who knows avocados better than those in the business?” he asked.

The industry has done a good job setting up the guidelines and getting out the word to growers, Lucy said.

Melban said he is encouraged by how quickly growers have adopted the program in just the past two to three months.

The first workshops took place in February.