California growers whose fields flooded when heavy March rains took their toll along the Salinas River will have to wait up to 60 days before replanting.

Flooded fields sit and wait

Mike Hornick
Staff Writer

That’s one of the consequences of taking food safety seriously and joining the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

Floodwaters carry a risk of soil and crop contamination, according to the LGMA and the Food and Drug Administration. How big or small a that risk is — and what to do about it — is prompting discussion and action among Salinas Valley growers.

“The standard in our metrics is 60 days, but you can replant after 30 provided you’ve done some testing to be sure the soil is free of pathogens,” said Scott Horsfall, LGMA chief executive officer.

“Some growers say they’ll wait out the 60 days, and some are weighing the costs against the benefits of soil testing and may get into the fields sooner.”

The flooding was prompted by more than 3 inches of rain in one week in late March.

That number was fairly tame compared to amounts received elsewhere in the state. But a levee breach left several produce growers and vineyards in the Gonzales area under water. Well north of the breach, closer to Salinas, the river simply rose too high in some places.

D’Arrigo Bros. Co. lost about 300 acres, but they weren’t alone. The Monterey County Farm Bureau put the damage at up to 1,500 acres.

Still to weigh in on the matter — if they choose to — are buyers.

“It’s the first significant flood we’ve had since 2007 and the implementation of the LGMA,” said Bob Roach, assistant agricultural commissioner for Monterey County.

“So how soon will that land be back in production, and will buyers impose requirements above and beyond that of the LGMA metrics?”

LGMA starts 5th year

April 1 marked the start of the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s fifth year in operation.

Industry support remains solid — zero withdrawals in the last year.

One new offering is a blog, launched April 14. There LGMA staff, industry representatives and outsiders will comment on food safety issues.

“We won’t be blogging every day, but we’ll try to keep it updated,” Horsfall said. “We see that as a way of being more active about communicating what we’re doing.”

The LGMA also anticipates hearing soon from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on possible formation of a national agreement.

“The first thing they’ll do is publish a preliminary decision, and we do expect that relatively soon,” Horsfall said.

“Based on hearing testimony they’ll either move forward or not with creation of a national marketing agreement. Then there’ll be a comment period before further action.”

Horsfall likes his chances.

“We know the FDA is probably not going to get the resources to do inspections on every farm in the U.S.,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean every product would need a marketing agreement. But we know they’re going to look at certain products first, like leafy greens, and we want to be sure they’re aware of what we’ve done at LGMA.”

E-mail mhornick@thepacker.com

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