The Key to Certification

AgVerdict enables data management for GAP compliance

Published in the March 2013 Issue Published online: Mar 19, 2013 Phil Schoening
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Are your potatoes certified? Like it or not, third-party certification programs are here to stay. In today's environment, certification is now simply one more part of doing business. Going beyond growing produce under safe, sustainable conditions to include sustainability, food safety and traceability, it is critical to stay ahead of today's requirements to be prepared for tomorrow. The most important aspect of certification is to keep ongoing, detailed records and documentation, made possible in AgVerdict, a state-of-the-art program with tremendous data management and record-keeping capabilities only available from Wilbur-Ellis.

"While standing in a potato field, Kevin Cochrane, left, field technology specialist at Wilbur-Ellis Company, demonstrates to a large potato grower near Pasco, Wash., how records can be inputted and accessed from AgVerdict anywhere with an Internet connection."

 Why is GAP Important?

Good agricultural practices, or GAP, is an all-encompassing term for certification including farm and crop safety programs, third-party certification auditing practices and required documentation. Their purpose is to ensure all the agronomic practices are done properly, lawfully and according to a label built on a foundation of sustainability, which establishes a baseline for land use, crop protection, fertility, water management, fuel and power. Becoming certified provides growers an opportunity to benefit from this distinction.

While no key legislations require growers to become certified, GAP is strongly market-driven with both domestic and export sales. There is a growing demand from end-buyers, such as McDonalds, Sysco, Walmart, Safeway and Costco, who often require traceability to document at least one step backward and one step forward throughout the production process.

GAP certification doesn't usually require huge changes to a grower's practices. However, the certification does necessitate detailed, accurate and ongoing documentation of everything a grower does. For example, how many growers document every time they scout a field? During the auditing process, if this scouting isn't documented, no one can prove it happened. Detailed records are critical.

The most critical portion of all auditing programs is the standard operating procedure (SOP). This is a written document of all procedures and practices established by the producer, which creates a detailed blueprint of all the day-to-day activities involved in crop production within the grower's operation. For example, if the food safety plan portion states records will be kept of all products applied within the label requirements, this means detailed follow-up documentation to back-up adherence is also required. The same can be said of the fumigant management plan and the resulting post-application summary.

 AgVerdict Assists Documentation

AgVerdict enables the detailed plant protection, plant nutrition and restricted-use pesticide documentation needed for GAP certification audits, even for multiple years' worth of records. Other detailed records, including nematode test results, seed records, irrigation applications, tissue samples, scouting records and farm maps are easily accessible in AgVerdict. Soil-sample report data can be uploaded directly from the labs. Application records including each grower's farm or field location, the acres treated, date and time of application, method of application, rate, formulation and calibration are entered into AgVerdict by Wilbur-Ellis or third-party applicators also utilizing the program. Growers themselves are also able to enter their own harvest data or other records, making AgVerdict a powerful tool for GAP compliance audits.

If the past five years have brought about rapid changes in the amount of documentation required for food safety, sustainability and traceability, get ready for the next five. Along with the pressure for more detailed records including increased documentation and written plans will be increased third-party certification. The standards followed by certification auditing programs, such as USDA GAP/GHP Audit, Sysco Foods Sustainable IPM Audit, SQF 1000/2000, AIB, Global GAP, BRC, Primus GFS or Produce GAP's Harmonization Initiative, are living documents, so when one changes or adds something to their program, the others follow suit.

Regardless of any upcoming changes, Wilbur-Ellis is committed to providing growers assistance in managing their information for third-party certification audit programs through AgVerdict.

Wilbur-Ellis brings growing knowledge to growers, producers and plant specialists through local interaction and one-on-one customer service.