Western growers and shippers of leafy green vegetables are ramping up food safety efforts through the launch of the Arizona leafy greens marketing agreement (ALGMA).

The ALGMA is the result of a voluntary effort by growers and shippers to mirror the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CLGMA) launched in early 2007. Many Arizona shippers of leafy greens are California based.

Both programs are designed to eliminate future food borne illness outbreaks like the devastating E. coli outbreak traced back to California grown spinach in 2006. That single food safety breach cost the leafy greens industry an estimated $1 billion and severely diminished consumer confidence in the leafy green food supply.

“When we launched the leafy greens marketing agreement in California, the desire of the Western Growers’ Board of Directors was to replicate the program if successful into Arizona to provide continuity,” said AnaMarie Knorr, Arizona government affairs analyst for Western Growers.

When most of California’s leafy greens production winds down in late summer, growing shifts to the desert growing areas of the Imperial Valley in California and to Arizona for the winter months. The ALGMA is designed to fabricate almost identical growing and shipping requirements in both states.

Western Growers, the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association, and the Arizona Farm Bureau collaborated to author the Arizona agreement, with assistance from the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA).

Joe Sigg, Arizona Farm Bureau government relations director, said, “We think this voluntary program is good for consumers and demonstrates the industry’s responsiveness and responsibility to the food safety issue.”

Leafy greens covered in the ALGMA include iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce (immature lettuce or leafy greens), escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula, and chard.

About 75 percent of Arizona’s leafy greens are grown in Yuma County with Maricopa County another prime growing area. Fifty million cartons of leafy greens were reported to the ADA in 2006. Arizona ranks third in the nation in the overall production of fresh market vegetables.

ALGMA certified

ADA assistant director Jim Nowlin, head of the department’s citrus, fruit, and vegetable division, certified the ALGMA on Sept. 27 with 32 shippers listed as signatories.

Those enrolled shippers affirm to purchase only leaf greens grown according to a laundry list of accepted good agricultural practices. The AGLMA guidelines are expected to closely replicate the 40-plus pages of CLGMA guidelines.

The ADA required two growers/shippers to request the ALGMA in writing. C.R. Waters, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Yuma, and Tom Russell, Pacific International Marketing, which handles produce in the Yuma and Phoenix areas, submitted the requests.

Like the program’s big brother agreement in California, shipper enrollment as signatories in the ALGMA is voluntary. Yet once signed on, adherence to the ALGMA guidelines is mandatory, including adhering to best management practices, paying a per carton charge to fund the program, and allow inspections of farm and shipping operations to guarantee 100 percent rule compliance.

The current CLGMA assessment is two cents per carton.

“It has been Western Growers’ desire to provide continuity between California and Arizona in terms of the metrics (good agricultural practices),” Knorr said. “We anticipate the Arizona metrics will be extremely similar to the California standards. Since there are differences between the two states, tweaking the metrics for Arizona could occur.”

Fifty-three shippers of leafy greens conducted business in Arizona in 2006, Nowlin said. While 32 shippers (about 60 percent of the total) signed the ALGMA agreement, 25 shippers (40 percent) didn’t sign by the certification date. Additional signatories can sign once the ALGMA’s marketing committee is established.

The 32 shipper/signatories ship 70 percent to 75 percent of the leafy greens grown in Arizona, Nowlin said.

The ADA conducted a public hearing on Sept. 13 in Yuma to hear shippers voice comments on the then proposed marketing agreement.

“I applaud the proactive effort by Arizona producers and handlers to ensure the food safety of leafy greens in Arizona. Their efforts will assure Arizona continues to grow some of the safest and best quality produce in the world,” said ADA director Don Butler.

ALGMA committee

The ALGMA marketing agreement authorizes a marketing committee consisting of five members — three from Yuma County and two from any producing area of the state including Yuma County.

A difference between the two states’ marketing committees deals with how committee members are chosen. Under the 13-member CLGMA advisory board of directors, A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), appointed the members in February 2007. Under the ALGMA, the 32 signatories will elect the five committee members.

The ADA was expected to mail out committee election ballots to the signatories by early October. The ALGMA is the first ADA marketing order ever approved.

Among the major challenges ALGMA committee members face once elected include developing a program budget, establishing an assessment on leafy greens to finance the program, and select who will administer the agreement.

California expected to lead

The plan supported by Western Growers and the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association is to tap leaders of the CLGMA to administer the ALGMA. Scott Horsfal is the CLGMA’s chief executive officer.

The Arizona marketing committee will make the decision on who will provide services for the Arizona program,” Western Growers’ Knorr said. “However, it is Western Growers’ desire to have Horsfall, the CLGMA board, and their inspectors come to Arizona and conduct our audits as well.”

Utilizing trained people already on the ground in California provides continuity, Knorr said. Since Arizona’s leafy greens season runs three to five months, full-time Arizona-based inspector positions cannot be offered. Western Growers has been working with Horsfall and the CLGMA board on how to possibly join forces and avoid the duplication of services.

“If utilizing California leadership is the most economical way to run the Arizona program and provide consistency across the two states, then we would be in favor of it,” said Rick Rademacher, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association.

“The ADA is probably not in the position to hire more people. If ADA ran the program, they would have to ramp up, train inspectors to conduct five or six months of work, and then there would be nothing for them to do the rest of the year.”

The marketing committee will decide who will administer the ALGMA, Nowlins said.

“If the committee wants the ADA to administer the program, we’ll have to determine how to achieve that,” Nowlins said. “Our department is extremely small compared to the CDFA.” ADA has about 320 employees statewide.

Trial period

Western Growers is supporting a trial period where growers/shippers in Arizona could participate in a test audit. Such an effort would help bring the industry up to speed, help better ensure that all parties are on the same page, and develop a full understanding of the required documentation before a drop dead date is established and infractions could result in penalties.

Arizona signatories

The following is a list of the 32 ALGMA shippers and the signatory shipper names:

Amigo Farms Inc. – William Scott, Jr.

Andrew Smith Co. – David Robinson

Bengard Ranch - Bardin Bengard

Bonipak Produce Co. – Mitch Ardantz

Cappurro Farms - Kevin Murphy

Church Brothers LLC – Stephen Church

D’Arrigo Brothers Company of California – Alan Luke

Dole Fresh Vegetables – Eric Schwartz

Duda Farm Fresh Foods – Samuel Duda

Everkrisp Vegetables Inc. – Mike Etchart

Five Crowns Marketing – Joe Colace, Jr.

Growers Express LLC – John Eade, Jr.

Ippolito International, LP – Michael Scarcella

Kleen Harvest – Bardin Bengard

Mann Packing Co. Inc. – Mike Jarrard

Metz Fresh, LLC – Andrew Cumming

Mills Family Farms – Basil Mills

Misionero (Griffin Produce Co. Inc.) – Stephen Griffin

Natural Selection Foods LLC – Mark Ellsworth

New Star Foods, LLC – Robert Whitaker

The Nunes Co. Inc. – David Nunes

Ocean Mist Farms – Joseph Pezzini

Organic Girl – Robert Whitaker

Pacific International Marketing – Tom Russell

Pure Pacific Organics LLC – Thomas Russell

Rousseau Farming Co. – Will Rousseau

Salyer American Fresh Foods – Saul Del Real

Steinbeck Country Produce – Chris Hungington

Sundridge Farms Inc. – Phillip Adrean

Tanimura & Antle – Eric Wexler

Taylor Farms California, Inc. – Alec Leach

True Leaf Farms LLC – David Gill

email: cblake@farmpress.com