Donohue to Karst: Small farmers not inherently safer - The Packer

Donohue to Karst: Small farmers not inherently safer

01/04/2011 04:46:00 PM
Tom Karst

That means the average orchard has farmgate revenues of $144,000 annually. Multiply that times three years and the average Michigan apple farm has revenues of $433,333 in the law’s specified three-year period – a comfortable 13 percent below the legislative threshold.

Of course, all farms aren’t average in size but do we really want to exclude the average Michigan orchard from meeting new food safety regulations? The Michigan Apple Committee – which includes two farm marketers – unanimously supports keeping food safety regulations the same for all orchards.

Michigan’s Senator Debbie Stabenow, about to assume the helm of the Senate Agriculture Committee, had a much better proposal than Tester: Keep food safety standards the same for all farms, but provide training funds to give a leg-up to small growers who wish to break into direct sales. Don’t lower the bar for all.

Lesser Standard for Vulnerable Population? Direct-to-school sales are another area that gives me pause. From the start, small growers and locavores have put local schools at the top of their sales lists. Currently in Michigan, there are no food safety produce regulations for school procurement staffs.

However, food service companies that provide most produce to these same schools require shippers to meet strict USDA GAP and GHP standard sbefore they can bid on federal school food service contracts. The shipper is typically supplied by several small and a few larger growers. Why are the “direct-sell” small growers any better than the small growers who coalesced around a GHP-certified shipper? In other words, why should the go-it-alone grower be able to sidestep GAP and GHP? Is he/she more somehow more worthy of the lower overhead?

Do we really to expose our most vulnerable citizens – children – to fresh produce that has been excused from meeting federal food safety guidelines? Food safety measures shouldn’t be a marketing chip used by large-scale agriculture, but the very foundation of a healthy fresh produce business.

Even the Playing Field. Lastly, it isn’t government’s job to tip the playing field so that small or new growers can get more sales. Michigan apple growers selling through normal commercial channels (rather than direct to consumer) have invested thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to meet or exceed government and industry regulations that have been racheted up since the peanut and tomato debacles.

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