Questions about how a National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement would deal with issues like exemptions for small growers, super metrics, audits and treatment of imports were topics of a Web Seminar.

After education presentations about the agreement for about 30 minutes — mostly drawing on facts available from a pro-agreement Web site, — participants asked questions about the plan.

Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, moderated the session. United Fresh Produce Association senior vice president of public policy Robert Guenther and Hank Giclas, vice president of science, technology and strategic planning for Western Growers were panelists.

In addition, U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service senior marketing specialist Melissa Schmaedick provided the agency’s perspective on the progress of the industry’s proposal. She said it may take up to two years to complete the process.

The agency hasn’t set dates yet for public meetings on a national program and said USDA stresses the agency is not a “proponent” of the agreement at this point in the process.

Later, responding to a question, she said the USDA would be prepared to handle the audit requirements of a national leafy greens marketing agreement.

One participant asked if “super metrics” — food safety specifications from buyers beyond what the agreement might set — could be avoided.

“The intent of the proponent group is to establish a set of baseline standards, communicate effectively and thus reduce the need for some of these super metrics,” Giclas said.

He said national agreement supporters are discussing the agreement with buyers in the hopes of reducing the need for additional specifications.

“Collectively I think we will see a reduction in the pressure (for super metrics),” he said.

California and Arizona metrics will be the backdrop for moving forward with details of a national agreement, but they will be adjusted based on region-specific issues, he said.

Giclas said passage of a national agreement would supersede the need for state agreements in California and Arizona, though he said the national agreement could use them as cooperators or resources for the national agreement

“Ultimately we want a single program that works for everybody,” he said

Schmaedick said the national leafy greens agreement is considered a domestic program, but participants who import would be limited to products grown under a good agricultural practices-audited environment. Domestic handlers would ask USDA to audit their foreign producers they are doing business with, she said.
Guenther said it was still unclear whether organic of small growers would be exempt.

Giclas said that there are no exemptions in the California and Arizona agreements, but like the national agreement’s proposal, it’s a voluntary program.

“The hope is that we would minimize the need for exemptions, but if necessary the committee has the ability to craft those if they deemed that necessary,” Giclas said.

Guenther also said the Produce Traceability Initiative should be complementary to possible national leafy greens agreement guidelines.

Giclas said a draft of the agreement suggests audits of growing regions at least once a year.

One participant asked whether buyers would be compelled to purchase only from participants in the agreement, and Hall said buyers would have to make that decision.

Supporters of the national agreement include the United Fresh Produce Association, the Produce Marketing Association, the Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association, Georgia Farm Bureau, Texas Vegetable Association, Arizona Farm Bureau, Leafy Greens Council, California Farm Bureau, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and Western Growers.