The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing a new voluntary national leafy greens marketing agreement that includes more regions and more grower board members than trade associations originally outlined.
The USDA opened a 90-day public comment period April 26 with the posting of the proposal at www.ams.usda.gov. Included are a map and other related materials, plus a link to the comments page at the Federal Register.
“It’s the next step in a long process to try to establish a voluntary structure that would allow handlers, growers and government stakeholders to collaborate to make leafy greens safer across the country,” said Hank Giclas, senior vice president of science, technology and strategic planning at Western Growers.
Western Growers was part of a group that in 2009 asked the USDA to create a national agreement. Among others, supporters have included the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Texas Fruit and Vegetable Association, Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
The new proposal reflects the results of seven public hearings plus hundreds of letters and comments on the draft, said Rayne Pegg, Agricultural Marketing Service administrator.
“This will assist all segments of the leafy greens industry in meeting commercial food safety requirements,” Pegg said. “This proposal is a compromise.”
One change is the creation of new regions — up from five to eight.
“A number of comments from the public (said) that the five zones really did not reflect different climates, production practices and markets,” Pegg said. “What’s happening in New York, those growing practices do not necessarily occur in Florida. They’re facing different situations. Therefore we decided to go with eight zones.”
In the original agreement, New York and Florida were in the same zone.
The original five zones were designed to include a major leafy greens production area in each, though the bulk is grown in the West.
“The (eight) zones are slightly differently based on geographical and climatological similarities,” Giclas said.
Another difference is a larger board. It’s up from 23 to 26 members, and includes 10 growers instead of six. Two of the 10 must be small growers. The prior draft provided for 13 handlers; there are now 12. There’s no change in the remaining makeup: one representative each from retail, foodservice, import and the general public.