New York state has funding to help fruit and vegetable farmers join the New York State Grown & Certified program.
Some $1.5 million is available through the Environmental Protection Fund to help farms implement an agricultural environmental management plan and a reimbursement of up to $1,000 is available for growers who participate in a third-party audit of safe food handling practices.
Farmers must participate in programs supporting good agricultural practices and environmental management to be eligible for New York State Grown & Certified. Officials said the funding will help more farms join the certification program.
“New York farms produce world-renowned, high-quality food, and the State Grown & Certified program strengthens the link between producers and consumers and promotes environmentally sustainable and safe practices,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This funding will help more farmers certify their products to these higher standards and access the many opportunities offered by New York State Grown & Certified.”
Launched in August, the program assures consumers that the food they are buying is local and produced to a higher standard by requiring participating producers to adopt good agricultural practices and enroll in an environmental management program.
Administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets Good Agricultural Practices program verifies that safe food-handling practices are being used on farms, from growing and harvesting to packaging and handling. The Good Agricultural Practices program certifies the fresh fruit and vegetable farms that have implemented the necessary steps in their operations to minimize the possibility of product contamination and food-borne illness in accordance with USDA regulations.
The state Department of Agriculture and Markets, through a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, is providing up to $1,000 to reimburse farms for Good Agricultural Practices audits. More information about the Good Agricultural Practices certification process and how to apply for the grant is available at www.agriculture.ny.gov/gap.
Officials said Cornell University is a key partner in training and education for farmers as part of the program. The university holds online courses and in-person training throughout the year to help producers learn about the program and write their own safe food handling farm plan prior to the third-party audit. More information on Cornell University’s training opportunities and how to sign up is available at gaps.cornell.edu.
The $1.5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund will help specialty crop farms to produce foods with the highest environmental standards will protect and improve New York’s natural resources, including water and soil quality, according to state officials.
New York’s County Soil and Water Conservation Districts are eligible to apply for the program on behalf of farmers. Maximum award amounts for projects are $50,000. Project eligibility information and the Request for Proposals are available at www.agriculture.ny.gov/RFPS.html. Applications are due Jan. 20.
For growers, participation in Agricultural Environmental Management and Good Agricultural Practices certification allows for greater access to programs, especially New York State Grown & Certified, which includes a major marketing campaign to promote New York producers who meet the program standards, officials said. This includes on-product labels and promotional materials, such as a website, video and sales materials, to encourage program participation among producers and to educate retail, wholesale and institutional buyers on the value of the program.
The Good Agricultural Practices certification also provides producers access to the Farm to School procurement pilot program, which requires growers selling to school districts to be certified. The program also helps farms prepare for potential regulation from the Food Safety Modernization Act.
In addition, officials said, the Good Agricultural Practices program is significant for buyers. By purchasing products from a farm that is certified, there is a reduction in the potential for future food safety recalls, which can be costly to buyers and also impact consumer confidence and loyalty. Many consumers are looking for reassurance that the items they purchase in the supermarket have been properly handled on the farm.