It may have been a snowy winter in the Midwest and East, but it means local crops in those areas are getting irrigation.

Spring is coming quickly, and retailers are well into plans for this year’s local fruit and vegetable supplies and promotions.

Not that anyone thought this trend was going away, but just to make sure, the world’s top retailer expanded on its plan to use its economies of scale to double the amount of local fresh produce it offers by 2015. 

Wal-Mart considers local to be produced within the same state as the store where a consumer buys the product, so that means many states can’t currently supply the scale the retail giant expects.

So Wal-Mart donated $3 million to the University of Arkansas for strawberry research and developing varieties that can grow in more local climates.

These moves should signal to Wal-Mart’s retail competitors and fresh produce suppliers that the local produce trend is about to ratchet up a notch.

The downside of this trend is it encourages smaller, less food safety-conscious suppliers to enter the business. As we saw the past two summers with local cantaloupe suppliers, a lack of attention to food safety can be deadly.

With that in mind, the Food and Drug Administration is increasing inspections of cantaloupe farms, and it looks increasingly likely it will approve California’s cantaloupe good agricultural practices for nationwide application.

Local still has to be safe.

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