Produce Traceability Initiative: Back to the Basics

Published online: Jul 31, 2014
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The following  newsletter was distributed by the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association on July 29:

Many years ago there was a connection between the consumer and the farmer, and that connection created a level of trust. Before the days of large national retailers, local produce was a way of life and it was likely you knew the farmer who grew the food being sold at your corner grocery store. If you didn’t know him, you knew of him and where he was from.

As retailers grew, so did farms. Instead of selling produce locally, the geography of markets expanded, national chains developed distribution centers, and produce was shipped farther and farther away from where it was grown. This expansion created a disconnect between the producer and the consumer despite the fact that the produce was just as healthy and just as good for you.

The Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is designed to do many things, but one of the most important is to help foster that connection between where the food is grown and the consumer. By being able to trace food back to its place of origin, a consumer has a much higher comfort level with that produce. In the consumer’s mind he creates that connection back to the land, which is something we should support and embrace as producers.

Of course there are other practical reasons to embrace PTI, the least of which is quickly becoming mandatory when doing business with larger retailers. Being able to trace produce back to the field level is no longer a luxury. It is quickly becoming a requirement to participate in the marketplace. Growers who resist implementing PTI will ultimately find themselves on the outside looking in and will ultimately have difficulty finding outlets for their product.

PTI also offers an element of protection for producers. By being able to quickly track product, any recall will not be as daunting and a complete accounting of what happened to the produce will be at the grower’s fingertips. This kind of record-keeping may seem daunting at first; however, once in place it will give the grower peace of mind by allowing him to know everything that has happened to that produce during both production and storage.

“It seems to me that universally as an industry, we will always be asked to provide more services for the privilege of selling our product,” says Mike Carter of Bushmans’ Inc. in Rosholt, Wis. “While that is frustrating at times, we have shown time and time again that even though implementation is daunting as we go through it, after a while it becomes second nature. I think a prime example of that are the food safety standards that only a few years ago seemed like they would be impossible to implement. With that said, it seems that just about every shed currently is certified, and while it does take some effort and investment, we figure out how to crack that nut and we are presently a better industry because of it. I have no doubt in about five years we will be saying the same thing about PTI, and we will be learning how to do yet a new set of tasks that will set us apart once more.”