As with other sectors of the produce industry, the Walla Walla sweet onion business eyes traceability.
The Produce Traceability Initiative is due to be fully implemented in 2012, and growers and shippers in the Walla Walla district in Washington and Oregon say they are keeping up its demands stride for stride.
Some say they are ahead of PTI.
“We have a company that comes in and certifies our water systems and spray programs and the whole farm program for traceback and the food safety issue,” said Mike Locati, owner of Locati Farms in Walla Walla, Wash.
“Our packing plant is the same way. We’ve stepped up to the plate and made sure it was all compliant.”
Locati said his operation has met or exceeded all food safety standards imposed since 2004.
“For all of our grower base, we have has traceback to the field,” said Locati, who also is chairman of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.
“Our onions are basically brought in from specific fields with specific lot numbers, so we know exactly what part of the field they came from.”
Castoldi Farms in Walla Walla also has been working on compliance with PTI, said Robert Castoldi, owner.
“A lot of work has been done on that with the container markings and point of origin,” he said.
“Everybody has been working on that quite extensively. And now we take tests before we harvest, on pesticides and whatnot, and that can be traced back to the fields. As far as sweets, it comes from only one area, so once that sticker is on the onions, you’ve got 700 acres you can find it at. But I think that’s going to be a big push.”
Ben Cavalli, owner of Cavalli’s Onion Acres in Walla Walla, said he tries to keep things as simple as possible.
“When you grow it yourself, it sure cuts out a lot of paperwork,” he said. “When you buy it direct from the farm, which is mostly what I do — I don’t pack for anybody else, I pack my own. And I’ve cut back. I’m slowing down.”
Compliance doesn’t come cheaply, Cavalli said.
“It used to be a lot of fun but there’s so many rules now, and the expense is unbelievable,” he said.
But growers must comply, Cavalli said, and he does.
So does Walla Walla-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., said Dan Borer, general manager.
Borer said his company has been proactive in traceability practices.
“We’re one of the leaders in the industry when it comes to that,” he said.
“We have all GTIN (Global Trade Item Numbers). We’re 100% traceable already. We’re in the forefront and have been for a long time.”
Hermiston, Ore.-based River Point Farms LLC also has been busy with its own traceability program, said Stefan Matheny, product development and research manager.
“We have definitely set the groundwork for it,” Matheny said.
“We have added new systems and traceability procedures here at River Point internally. We’re on the front end of the implementation process for GTIN and we’re on schedule to comply and hit every one of those benchmarks.”
Some growers wondered aloud why PTI is getting so much attention, since traceability always has been a priority.