WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduling five public hearings on a possible national marketing agreement for leafy greens.

“We expect the hearings will take place in late September and October,” said Charles Parrot, associate deputy administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service Fruit & Vegetable Programs, on July 22.

The meetings will be in different locations, he said, with the first meeting anticipated in California. Parrot said the USDA plans to announce locations and dates for the hearings at least 30 days in advance.

He said the USDA expects to videotape the first meeting and post it on the agency’s Web site.

After the hearings, Parrot said it will take several months for USDA to analyze the comments and make recommendations.

“Based on the record, if there are things that would appear to be problematic from what was submitted from the proposal group that we initially got, we could change those,” Parrot said.

Parrot said environmental groups and other stakeholders might be interested in giving testimony at the hearings. The proposed agreement was submitted in June by eleven national and state produce associations, including the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

Those groups said in a letter to USDA that the proposed voluntary national leafy green marketing agreement program is designed for handlers to improve the quality of U.S. and imported leafy green products.

“Coupled with a corresponding audit-based verification program, these best practices would minimize microbial contamination of fresh leafy green vegetables in the growing and handling processes, enhance the overall quality of fresh product in the marketplace, and boost public confidence in these commodities,” the group said its letter.