Grower survey examines environmental practices, food safety regulations

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Published on 06/16/2009 11:21am By Dawn Withers


A coalition of conservation and agricultural groups are asking growers how their environmental practices are changing in the face of ever more complicated food safety requirements.

The survey was sent in April to about 700 growers in California's Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara counties, and is expected back in the next few weeks, said Paul Robins, executive director of the Monterey County Resource Conservation District, the agency leading the survey work.

"The intent is to see what has changed and to better identify what pressures growers are experiencing relative to food safety requirements and compare those with (the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement) and proprietary food safety programs," Robins said.

The current survey is a follow-up to one in 2007 that polled about 600 growers on how their conservation, water and other environmental practices on the farm changed after the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach.

It is a collaborative effort between the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Salinas; the Nature Conservancy in Monterey County; Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.; Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, Salinas; and the Central Coast Agricultural Water Quality Coalition, Soquel, Calif.

Hank Giclas, vice president of science, technology and strategic planning for Western Growers, said the newest survey has more detailed questions to gauge what changed in the past two years to serve as a better source of data than the previous survey.

"It's going to be interesting to see if we get better results on this one," Giclas said.

Growers responded to the 2007 questionnaire with information about a conflict between longstanding work on water quality and riparian habitat preservation and buyers rejecting many leafy greens. Growers said they were losing points on food safety audits because of nonvegetable crops on their farms, crop proximity to water and traces of wildlife.

Robins said the survey focuses on these core areas and measures how food safety rules imposed by buyers and auditors continue to change growers' on-farm environmental work.

Jim Bogart, president of the Grower-Shipper Association, said the survey is about gathering information beyond anecdotes to hard data that can be used to inform legislators, other industry groups, and the public about what growers face in meeting food safety rules.

"It's to get a feel for the relationship between food safety efforts versus conservation efforts," Bogart said.

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