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 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.

“People really wanted to ensure that there was grower representation on the board and that there was representation of different sizes of operation, so that they would have a voice in the conversation about practices they would have to adhere to,” Pegg said.

“During the hearings, there was a recognition on the part of proponents that we need to expand to include more growers,” Giclas said.

Other changes to the proposed agreement include new membership on the technical review committee. “There were a lot of concerns over comanagement with food safety and conservation practices, so the proposal includes the Natural Resource Conservation Service having a seat on the committee,” Pegg said.

The 24 technical review committee members would include one producer, one handler and one food safety expert from each of the eight zones. At least one of the eight producers must be a small grower and one must be a certified organic grower. Beside these and the NRCS, other appointees could come from the National Organic Program, the federal Food and Drug Administration and other agencies.

Among the variables still to be decided is the fate of state leafy greens marketing agreements in Arizona and California.

“A couple of concepts have been talked about,” Giclas said. “One is there may be no need for the state agreements. The industry wants to minimize duplication of efforts, fees and administration. The national and state agreements need to evaluate how they dovetail into each other. It may be that the state agreements become regional arms of the national agreement. It may be that they just dissolve.”

“It sounds to me like USDA is conceptually consistent with where proponent groups were,” Giclas said. “The groups have moved the ball forward and it’s up to the industry to collaborate together to move this forward.”