Industry leaders are pleased with changes to the Produce Traceability Initiative timeline but said strong leadership and investment from all parts of the supply chain is required for the voluntary initiative to succeed.

“It clearly showed they listened to many of us who expressed some reservations when we figured out what was going to be demanded,” said Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter, Calif.-based California Citrus Mutual.

“I’m in support of what was released yesterday,” said Tom Casas, vice president of information technology and mechanization for Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle, on May 26, the day after members of the three organizations released plans  to use pilot projects to test the system.

“A year of putting labels on without them really being used, really didn’t make sense,” he said. “If there are customers who want to start sooner, we will work with them regardless of what the timelines are.”

Growers had concerns that the foodservice and retail side of the distribution chain was not as committed as the grower/shipper community, in addition to confusion about “mandatory” PTI milestones, said Charles Hall, executive director of the LaGrange-based Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association,

“I think one of the best items to come out of this re-evaluation is the combination of the three milestones and call for pilot studies and best management practice exchanges.” he said in an e-mail.

Casas also expressed hope for the pilot projects.

“I’m not clear how (the projects are) going to be managed but I really believe there needs to be end-to-end pilots,” he said. “Let’s see what happens in the process and let’s make sure that everybody is executing and this is working the way we expect it to work.”

Michael McCartney, managing principal with QLM Consulting, Sausalito, Calif., said pilot projects should benchmark the costs and best practices of PTI..

“We need to figure out exactly where the gaps are,” he said.  “Some group of companies need to raise their hand and say, ‘We will lead this, we will open our doors and let people see what we are doing,” he said.

Hall said the goals of PTI remain reachable, but he said many growers will have major concerns about the cost of the initiative and feel there is very little immediate return on investment.

Casas said PTI has turned out to be a bigger undertaking than most really understood.

“Whether it is field pack, shed pack or the big lines of the salad plants, it is a pretty big deal to put a very standard label on every box.”

Casas said it is time for all parts of the supply chain to step up to fund pilot projects and to reaffirm their commitment to PTI.

“I think what we are looking for from the (buying community) is, ‘We’re going to do it, and we’re not only going to do it, we won’t buy from people aren’t PTI-compliant,’ ” Casas said.