Global Good Agricultural Practice (Global GAP) is a contentious issue, as Bev Gregory from Business Quality Solutions discovered during a presentation to members of the East Coast Intensive Horticulture Association at the end of July. Farmers were visibly cross about the prospect of having to become GAP certified. “Some of us have chosen not to supply supermarket chains,” complained one farmer. “They are trying to impose standards of developed countries on a developing country. Input costs are rocketing and this whole standards issue doesn’t apply if you aren’t exporting. Farmers are the suckers at the end who are bearing the brunt.”
A nother farmer said the real issue was how to make supermarkets ethical about where they sourced their products. “When there’s a shortage of a product from a GAP-compliant farmer, the supermarkets buy off the market floor. Woolworths is the only retailer who’s said they’d leave empty shelves rather than do that. Until there is commitment from supermarkets, why should there be commitment from farmers?” Against this backdrop Bev, who helps farmers draw up documents and implement the quality standards required to become GAP-compliant, tried to convince farmers of GAP’s long-term benefits. “By the end of the year, suppliers to most major retailers and chain stores must be certified by GAP,” she said. “The markets are feeling pressure to comply as well.
There’s no legislation to enforce it but the retailers are driving the change. Consumers are becoming more informed, and want to know their food is safe to eat.” Farmers won’t, however, recover the money they spend becoming GAP compliant by getting better prices from retailers. They will save by examining their inputs, for example, their chemical and fertiliser usage. “GAP forces farmers to look at their farming practices conscientiously,” explains Bev. “It looks at issues like crop rotation and seed quality and helps farms become more cost effective. After implementation, GAP won’t cost a lot and is easy to maintain. It really only requires an annual audit.”
GAP is an ethical issue and farmers should concentrate on producing a safe product while looking at their farming environment, Bev says. “Most responsible farmers would pass GAP with no problem. The record-keeping is the major difficulty for most, as while they’re doing things right, they aren’t keeping records with all the necessary details. Traceability plays a huge role in GAP. You must be able to trace a product from dispatch to client right through to the seed batch, including pesticide applications. “No genetically modified (GM) seedlings or plants may be used. Seed quality certificates are a vital part of records and help ensure the consumer gets a good and safe product. The records need to reflect the types of fertilisers and pesticides, when they’re applied and in what amounts, and adherence to pesticide withdrawal periods.”
Monitoring chemical use
Farmers of strawberries, lettuce and smaller crops like herbs struggle to produce quality products with the few registered chemicals available. “But this can be overcome,” says Bev. “Some auditing companies accept ‘justified use’ of chemicals that are registered overseas but not locally. GlobalGAP can issue a letter of non-conformance for these crops.” It’s important to ensure a chemical is registered for the pest you are targeting. “GAP requires you to spray reactively rather than preventatively,” says “This is very difficult for most farmers. Scouting plays an important role. prevents over-spraying and makes it possible to spray only for what is needed. Scouting and recording weather and rainfall all help farmers plan better to save on water, chemicals and fertiliser.”
I ntegrated pest management (IPM) is becoming a vital part of good farming practices. “Chemical and fertiliser reps are playing a bigger role in farming and need to take some responsibility for their recommendations. They’re required to put them in writing and sign it. This will become more necessary with more farmers becoming GAP-certified. IPM plays a big role in pests not developing resistance to pesticides.” When it comes to fertilisers, soil analysis is vital. “If the soil isn’t right and you don’t know it, how will you determine what fertiliser or fertigation to apply?” Bev asks.The use and storage of pesticide, how it’s handled and who is mixing and applying the chemicals also come under scrutiny in the audit.
“If staff aren’t properly trained in chemical mixing and application techniques, they can get lung problems and cancer,” she warns. “Staff health and welfare are important, and the auditors want to know you’re sending your guys for annual check-ups to ensure chemicals aren’t adversely affecting their health. They also look at whether housing compounds have running water, and whether housing is secure and waterproof. Electricity is not a prerequisite but it would be nice.”
The GAP audit has a substantial section on environmental policies. “Farmers need to do an environmental study of what biodiversity is available on the natural, uncultivated areas of the farm. GAP encourages biodiversity and don’t want farmers to decimate their land.” The water management section of the audit covers aspects like water use, how to reduce wastage, records of rainfall and irrigation. “Irrigation and water quality are vital,” Bev says.
“The farmer also needs a sustainable source of water, and only by managing their water usage can farmers contribute to the sustainability of this resource.” The GAP system has changed from the old EurepGAP to the new GlobalGAP. “The huge thing to look at is the way you approach your agricultural practice. If you aren’t growing hydroponically, how are you developing new sites for agriculture? If you’re putting up tunnels, are you doing an impact study on the rest of the farm?”
Bev says farmers have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure the food produced on their farms is safe for the consumers, while considering the sustainability of all their resources, including the environment. “This formula ensures the profitability and sustainability of the enterprise,” she concludes. Contact Bev Gregory on 082 892 8010, e-mail [email protected], or fax 086 689 3507. |fw