In just two decades, Global Good Agricultural Practices (GLOBALG.A.P.) has grown from a retailer-driven initiative to the world’s leading farm assurance program. Today, GLOBALG.A.P. codes, programs, and standards continue to exist because of growing, worldwide concerns about food quality and safety - and is the subject of our latest podcast.
Tune in to hear host Tony Kramer and RDO Agronomist Erin Hightower discuss GLOBALG.A.P and its impact on growers, buyers, and consumers in the latest episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast.
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Catch this episode’s complete transcript here:
Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 113 and today we're going to be talking about GLOBALG.A.P.
I am really excited to welcome back to the show Erin Hightower. Erin was on the show back in 2017, talking about some of the infield technology that we had to offer with John Deere. Erin is an agronomist with RDO Equipment Company, in our Pacific Northwest region.
Thanks for joining us on the show again, Erin. To get started, let's recap and hear again a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Erin Hightower: It's a pleasure to be back. I'm excited to talk with you guys about GLOBALG.A.P today. GLOBALG.A.P, actually, it plays a little bit into my past. I had worked in the regulatory or non-regulatory government agencies of conservation district in NRCS, the natural resource conservation sciences.
That's where I first became aware of GLOBALG.A.P and some of the regulations and some of the opportunities behind it. That's where I started my career. I have a bachelor's and master's from Washington State University and started working in the Pacific Northwest. What I really enjoy is that we have 244 crops in the area.
It's never boring up here in the Pacific Northwest when it comes to cropping systems and crop management and crop information management. Then in 2017, I started working with RDO Equipment Co. about tying together the precision AG aspect of our equipment, into the agronomy aspect of our equipment and making sure that we have the answer to, how is this going to affect my farm?
Tony: That's really cool to hear that this GLOBALG.A.P conversation does kind of play into your background in history. It's a very fitting to bring you in to talk about this. You're right. The number of crops out there in the PNW, it's amazing.
Here in the Midwest, we're used to our corn, soybeans, small grains, couple specialty crops here and there, but you guys definitely have a versatile arsenal of crops to be putting in those fields out there. Let's get into it, Erin. GLOBALG.A.P, let's just start off telling our listeners what is GLOBALG.A.P.
Erin: GLOBALG.A.P and GAP stands for, Good Agricultural Practices, was started about 20 years ago to answer the question, as we start trading food across state and national lines, how are we ensuring that what the food we are receiving it meets our standards for health and it meets our standards for impact as we're growing it?
GLOBALG.A.P was actually a start off because of EurepGAP, which was the European union's answer to that same question. How am I going to make sure that this food that I'm getting across the line, meets my food safety standards, meets my environmental safety standards and health standards?
With that, it started with this checklist. It is not just a simple checklist. It is not a one-page piece of paper. There are volumes of checklists to maintain the health and management of the cropping systems. It is as extensive as food handling. It's as extensive as how the workers are treated. It's as extensive as nutrient management, pest management, pest residue management, water management.
They look at everything. They look at the entire system. The GLOBALG.A.P all comes down to documentation management. That is the number one thing that ends up being the big bite that you had to take out, when you decide to be a GLOBALG.A.P. participant is that you are documenting every square inch of that production at every minute of that production.
It's very extensive. In fact, when I became aware of it, it was because I was doing groundwater management testing and I met a producer employee, who her full-time job, as well as two other people's jobs, was managing their GLOBALG.A.P. checklists. Much like when you're growing for organics, there will be a third party that will come in and inspect you.
It is based off this hierarchal, we have a checklist we all agree to. Now, these third parties are going to come in and check you and make sure that you're maintaining it, but then out of it what you get is the GLOBALG.A.P. standard. That opens up a whole bunch of international and even domestic markets. When you have the GLOBALG.A.P label, it is not synonymous with organics.
It does not mean you have organic production. It does not mean you have any sort of production standards other than, is your product clean? Is your product safe? Is your product not negatively impacting the environment?
Tony: It really sounds like GLOBALG.A.P is a one of those certifications, that is just holding us in the AG industry at a higher standard. We want to be proud of the crops that we're growing, whether it be small grains or produce or the 200 some odd crops that you guys grow out there in the Northwest. That to me is really what it is. Is just to hold us at a higher standard and be proud of what we're growing.
Erin: Being proud of what we're growing, but also letting everyone that may be purchasing our products know that we're meeting a very high minimum standard. It's actually implemented through the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. FAO is the lead agency on GLOBALG.A.P. It is this agreed upon ahead of time standard from the entire United Nations.
Tony: Now that we know a little bit about what GLOBALG.A.P is, let's talk a little bit about who it affects and how it affects them. Let's just go down the list there, Erin, talking growers, buyers, and consumers, how does it affect them when it comes to GLOBALG.A.P certification?
Erin: For growers, it's rigorous. When you are agreeing to be GLOBALG.A.P, you are agreeing to be very invested in your information and technology management. You're going to be very invested in knowing exactly what every square inch of your farm and every employee is doing. In that realm, you're signing yourself up for a lot of work, but at the same time you're signing yourself up for a very high brand standard.
You're getting to say, "I promise you this product has these very high standards." It requires them to establish a complete control in moderate system. You're monitoring every aspect of your farm. You pretty much need to go in it ahead of time thinking about that holistic package of monitoring. You're going to have to be able to trace every single registered product that you use.
You're going to have to be tracing every nutrient management resource you used, but you are still flexible. I mean, you still can use soil fumigants, or you can use organic or non-organic standards when it comes to growing. You just have to be able to say every year, this is what I put on this acre when it came to any products.
There's also strict storage and pesticide residue management standards. They just want to make sure that there's no spills. They want to make sure that you don't accidentally use the wrong product. All those items. It becomes really about knowing how you're storing your products and what products are being used where.
That's where the technology that we provide at RDO Equipment Company becomes really beneficial, because we can help monitor and we can help technologically follow basically that acre and make sure we know what's been on at all times. Then for the buyers, it's kind of a guarantee.
It's a guarantee that this Apple that I bought from the Pacific Northwest and I'm going to sell across this ocean, will have the standards of GLOBALG.A.P. That buyer knows that meets a certain standard. As a third party coming in and guaranteeing that you're meeting GLOBALG.A.P standards, it's that check and balance system.
I know that this person isn't just telling me this, I'll have had this designated third party come in and say that this is GLOBALG.A.P standards. The whole goal is that your food quality will increase, you're going to have not have to worry about non-compliance with permitted pesticides.
You're not going to have to worry about residual pesticides or residual crop management being on that piece of fruit, or whatever it is that they're buying and it implements. It includes being able to have that retail label going across the world with that same standards, because it's through the FAO we're guaranteeing that we all have met that standard when we're going across country.
What it means is that we're also not going to be using a pesticide that may be outlawed in Germany, that we're not selling a product that has that residue from a pesticide that they obviously do not want to be in their food system. Consumers don't really ever see a GLOBALG.A.P label.
That's not something that you necessarily, "Oh, let me pick up a GLOBALG.A.P apple" in the same way that you would pick up an organic or conventional apple. This is more in the trader's side and the international trade side of things. What that does is that, consumer knows that their buyers are doing their best to make sure that they're not getting something that maybe is going to have a long term impact.
More and more, we're seeing certain countries insist that they only receive products that are GLOBALG.A.P. When it comes to the consumer in the grocery store, you may not see that benefit or risk, but your government may be watching for that for you.
Tony: Learning about who this affects and how it can affect them, I want to know who can become certified GLOBALG.A.P and what does that process look like?
Erin: Any producer can be GLOBALG.A.P. It agnostic to crop, it's agnostic to location, it's agnostic to growing standards. Anybody can be GLOBALG.A.P, but what you're signing yourself up for is a whole lot of product management, time management and information management that you're setting yourself up for.
Anybody can but you as a producer, you better be ready that you're going to be facing a whole lot more; standards, answering, you're going to be a whole lot of, for lack of better term, red tape, you're going to be doing a lot of that. If you decide you want to go GLOBALG.A.P, the FAO does not hand over a GLOBALG.A.P certification.
You're going to go through those third parties, the same third parties that are going to be coming in and doing your intermittent checks, are probably going to be the ones that are going to be giving you your certification. It's extensive, they're going to go through your operation with a fine-tooth comb.
It's going to be almost overwhelming and definitely almost invasive, but they're trying to make sure that you're meeting these GLOBALG.A.P standards. I would almost say the best thing you could do is, if you can get on the GLOBALG.A.P website, at least start downloading these checklists and seeing if it fits for you.
That's the first step and then, you would need to see who's your local provider for those certifications. Generally, you have to pay for your registration, you have to pay for your inspection and you have to pay for your certification, so it's not cheap either. Both individual producers can or you can go in as a group of producers and apply for a certification or a co-op as well.
That's another option, if you're in a co-op, there's a potential that you could be applying maybe as that co-op and maybe alleviating some of those costs. Additionally, there is some certification fees charged by that certification agency. That's another fee that you're talking about.
Again, it's very intensive, at time it's very intensive somewhat on cost, but now you're opening yourself up to certain countries that only accept GLOBALG.A.P.
Tony: With GLOBALG.A.P certification, what does this mean to us at RDO? Are there any values or benefits to working with customers that are GLOBALG.A.P coming from an equipment standpoint?
Erin: We need to be aware at RDO Equipment Company about GLOBALG.A.P. The reason we need to be aware of it, is because that determines how we're going to help you set up your information management systems through our equipment.
All of our equipment basically has the ability to be feeding this information into operation center, so that when you go into the John Deere Operation Center and you're printing off these reports and you're putting it in a binder and now your life is easier. If we know you're GLOBALG.A.P, we can set your information up so that it makes it report easy.
If we're not aware of it, we could be setting up your equipment that makes you an extra two steps that you don't need to be doing. In all of my time that I spent working with information systems with producers, one of the first questions I ask is what programs they work in.
That's not just GLOBALG.A.P it's also organic, that's Farm Service Agency Natural Resource Conservation Services, because I can be saving you a step if I know that there's information that you need to be able to print out and hand over. The first big step is making sure that we know that they're GLOBALG.A.P.
Be reviewing what the checklists are with any producers that maybe GLOBALG.A.P, or wanting to be GLOBALG.A.P and setting up our systems to answer and manage the information that they need, so that they can just print it up, call it good.
Yes, they still may need a full-time employee sitting there managing all that information, but it certainly will make their job easier and do it in a 40-hour workweek instead of a 90-hour workweek. Even just knowing what that looks like.
We also have a lot of technological solutions available, to answer some of the requirements that GLOBALG.A.P has in the produce and in the small grains industry, because our technology is there and waiting for it.
If you're willing to put in the time to be certified and if you're willing to put in the money to be certified, we can set up a system that makes your certification easy to manage, potentially even giving operation center information over directly to your GLOBALG.A.P certifier may mean that they maybe need to take less trips to your farm.
On top of it, if they can look and see application data and management data that we have available to us. I think our equipment is sitting here ready and willing and able to make GLOBALG.A.P an option for our producers, who are ready to sell in that international market.
Tony: If one of our listeners wants to learn more about GLOBALG.A.P and what it entails, where can they go? Who can they talk to, to learn about this certification process and what it takes?
Erin: GLOBALG.A.P is ran through the, like I said, it is ran through the United Nations Food, FAO. The best place would be to be going to their website and looking up that information. Their checklists are available on the United States website. You can be looking at these checklists even before you're interested in GLOBALG.A.P.
The first step would be going to these GLOBALG.A.P websites. If you do information check, a check online, you might have a certification organization close enough to be having conversations with them as well.
Tony: I just want to thank you, Erin, for taking the time to sit down and chat with me to talk about GLOBALG.A.P. I learned a lot. This isn't something that is very prevalent here in the upper Midwest, I know you deal with it out in the Pacific Northwest from time to time.
It's really cool to learn about these certifications and what our growers can do and what the market does with certifications like this. Thanks again for doing this. It was great to have you on.