Last month, USDA announced the dates and locations of seven hearings related to a proposed national marketing agreement for leafy green vegetables. Producers and handlers from the fresh produce industry have proposed the establishment of a national marketing agreement to facilitate the application of Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices, and Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines. If established, only handlers who sign on to the marketing agreement will be subject to the requirements of the accord.
This proposed agreement is based on the California and Arizona leafy green marketing programs that were implemented about two years ago.
One of the seven hearings on the proposed agreement took place on Tuesday in Columbus, OH. Proponents in attendance, including Tom Stenzel and Ray Gilmer of United Fresh Produce Association, and Hank Giclas of Western Growers, presented their case for the voluntary marketing agreement. On the opposing side, several Ohio growers provided testimony as well as a representative from Kentucky and an organic grower from Iowa.
On the proponent side, Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association, said that the member leadership reached its decision to support a national marketing agreement because it would present an opportunity – not a burden – for growers, shippers, and processors of leafy greens.
“It is important to state from the beginning that we support this initiative because it is indeed voluntary for leafy greens handlers,” said Stenzel. “If USDA moves forward with this agreement, it is entirely up to the individual handlers whether they want to participate.”
Several Ohio growers presented their testimony, indicating that they were not in favor of the agreement. In addition to the Ohio growers, an organic grower from Iowa, Chris Blanchard, cited several reasons why he was not in favor of the agreement.
In particular, he said food safety, as it is presented in the proposed agreement, should not be considered as a marketing issue. He added that the agreement would have a negative effect on small producers who do not choose to participate. A National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement would provide market differentiation offering “perceived safety” to customers, said Blanchard. This, in turn, he said, could hamper small growers as “ultimately, consumers drive the business.”
Stay tuned for more details on the hearing in the November issue of American Vegetable Grower.