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Mock audit held for GAP certification
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (April 26, 2016) — Chris Freeman watched quietly as a mock auditor walked a small group of farmers and agriculturists through a series of food safety requirements upheld by the University of Maryland’s Terp Farm earlier this month.
Freeman, who works on a Galena farm, said he sees the farm regulations and audits — part of the state and federal Good Agricultural Practices program — as an inevitable obligation for farms of the future. And as a young farmer, he said, it made sense to get acquainted.
“I want to follow the rules,” he said. “I want to know what the rules are.”
Freeman was one of a small group who toured the farm April 15 during a mock audit to get a better sense of what’s required for a farming operation seeking GAP certification.
The program was created to reduce microbial risk in fruits and vegetables by establishing an educational program for producers and packers.
As a result, an increasing number of wholesale buyers now require GAP certification.
Maryland’s GAP program is similar to the USDA’s and other private audit programs, but it’s designed to be more suited to smaller farming operations.
Training is mandatory, and following a self-assessment and the creation of a GAP plan, auditors survey the farm or packing operation.
GAP plans must address four key risk areas: Waste, wildlife, workers and water. Water, in particular, is key, said David Martin, a senior Extension agent who presented at the workshop.
Water is “required for everything we do, but it’s also a great vehicle for transporting microbes,” he said.
Attendees were given a copy of a Maryland GAP inspection report used by auditors. Issues covered range from worker sanitation standards to making sure pesticide applicators are licensed and ensuring all farm water sources have been tested for E. coli.
Johnny Harrison, owner of Terrapin Farms in Worcester County, attended the workshop with his greenhouse manager, Matt Smith, who oversees four farm workers. Harrison said he believed his farm already satisfied most of the GAP requirements and is seeking the certification.
He said he also supports the program.
“The ends justify the means,” he said.
After all, one of his largest customers, a Lancaster, Pa., distributor demands GAP certification as do other distributors of certified crops.
Freeman said he’s heard some farmers bemoan the surging wave of regulatory programs, including GAP, over the last several decades but mostly supports the idea, though he thinks some of it can be problematic, particularly the water testing requirements.
GAP requires each surface water source to be tested three times a season: At first use, at peak use and at harvest.
Well water must be tested once a season at first use and municipal water must also be tested once a season though it can be done using county records.
“It’s a lot of labor and money for the testing,” he said.
That said, he’s got bigger plans.
“I’d like to start a farm venture that does have the certification,” he said. “I see it as a coming wave of many requirements that I believe will be pretty much dominating the industry in coming years. … Customers are demanding it.”