Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)
Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP, is a voluntary audit that farmers can undertake to verify that produce is grown, harvested, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize food safety risks. Typically if a farmer is interested in pursuing GAP certification, he or she would create a farm food safety manual that outlines their farm’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for how things occur as they plant, grow, harvest and handle food products.
A key component to GAP is maintaining appropriate documentation to show that a producer is complying with standard practices as well as their SOPs. Annually the farmer can request an audit to have a third party come out and verify that they are meeting the standards set by the program. The USDA GAP & GHP Audit is just one of the programs available.
While this program was originally designed for large produce farms, the increase in demand by institutions for local produce, as well as the development of entities such as food hubs, has caused a need for smaller diversified farms to consider pursuing certification. This can seem daunting to a small farm that may have only the family of the owners to rely on for all the tasks that need to be completed in the business.
In April 2016, USDA launched a new program called GroupGAP that makes this certification more accessible for smaller diversified farms. The idea is that by sharing in the costs of training and certification, farmers can work together to pursue certification as a group.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula participated in a pilot project to test and improve the first Group GAP certification process. The farmers participating in the pilot confirmed that small farms can comply with the standards without huge investments in additional infrastructure. While there are extra steps and documentation a farm needs to comply with to be part of a Group GAP certification, the benefits of certifying as a group outweighed the extra work, according to Michelle Walk, Community Food Systems Educator with Michigan State University Extension.
S.D. GroupGAP Training
In South Dakota, SDSU Extension and the SD Dept. of Agriculture are partnering to bring a similar Group GAP certification to local food producers. The first classroom training was held in April, 2016 in Mitchell. The farm audit portion of that training will be conducted in the next month.
A second classroom training is being planned for the fall of 2016, likely to be held in Yankton. If you are a local food producer interested in learning more about a Group GAP training in South Dakota, contact Kari O’Neill or Dr. Rhoda Burrows.