SANDUSKY, Ohio — They’ve been talking about it for the past six years, and now, Ohio produce growers could be just a few months away from having a new state-specific produce marketing agreement.
The Ohio Produce Marketing Agreement came to be after Ohio producers grew concerned over regulations in other states, as well as federal food safety regulation, that would have sought an industry-wide, one-size-fits-all approach.
The program already is in place as a third-party certified inspection, but if it garners enough petitions for support (200) and is approved by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, it will become a full food safety marketing program that will help producers also meet new federal food safety rules, outlined in the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Karl Kolb, an OPMA inspector and project organizer, said the agreement would take at least a month to be reviewed and approved by ODA. Farms are already participating and enrollment is available now to any producer and market.
Kolb spoke during the annual Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association annual congress Jan. 21 at Kalahari Convention Center in Sandusky. An estimated 800 people will attend the three-day gathering, and Kolb figured it would generate enough signatures to forward the produce agreement for state approval.
The purpose of making an Ohio-specific plan, he said, was “to make sure that the Ohio farmer was promoted and protected. … If we don’t keep this close to home, it’s going to get out of control.”
Producers feared they could lose market opportunity if they were required to sign onto a national program that failed to consider the size of their operation, and the things that make each farm unique.
Ohio holds one of the largest Amish populations in the country, and many smaller producers like the Amish use horse-drawn farm equipment and small-scale practices that may not be found on larger, more commercialized operations.
The OPMA plan provides for three tiers of participation, depending on size of the participant’s operation.
Basic food safety standards are universal for all producers, but larger operations carry more responsibility and also must pay a slightly higher membership fee — $50 compared to just $25 for smaller farms.
The Ohio plan is set up to mirror certain requirements of the Food and Drug Administration, and is expected to be a valid food marketing agreement for producers across the country — not just within Ohio.
Kolb said it foremost protects the safety and well-being of the consumer, who demands a safe, abundant supply of food. But it also protects the reputation of the farm and the decades of work to earn that reputation.
“Everything is on the line; it (your reputation) can go away that quickly,” he said. “Protect your investment, protect your legacy.”
And he didn’t mince words about the potential of this agreement, once approved.
As Kolb sees it, the Ohio plan could make the state a leader among food safety agreements — a plus for Ohio growers.
“This state (Ohio) can really kick some butt in this country,” with this plan, he said.
The OPGMA also recognized retiring president Lisa Schacht of Schacht Family Farm near Columbus. She will now serve as past president, while Mike Hirsch of Hirsch Fruit Farm in Chillicothe becomes the new OPGMA president.
“I continue to consider myself just a simple farmer,” Schacht said in her closing comments. “I was humbled initially and still am by the support and encouragement that I’ve received.”
She has been active the past couple years helping inform the state’s produce industry, as well as state policy makers and consumers, about trends within the industry and its struggles with a record wet spring (2011), followed by a record wet drought (2012).
She said the Ohio produce plan is “realizable, sensible and affordable,” and something that will help advance the industry.
For more about the OPMA food safety plan, visit the OPGMA website at www.opgma.org.
(Reporter Chris Kick can be reached at 330-403-9477, or at email@example.com.)