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Direct market farmers looking to sell their produce wholesale may need to be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. It all depends on what outlets farms are selling into, what those buyers require and whether a farm wants to pursue the audit process.

Small, direct market farmers often end up adding wholesale outlets as their farms grow. A few wholesale buyers can help to sell off a bumper crop that overproduced for a farm’s direct-market customers. They can be a way to increase sales volumes without a subsequent uptick in hours spent at farmer’s markets, packing CSA boxes or filling small-dollar online orders.

However, GAP certification is increasingly required to make those wholesale sales.

The number of consumers worried about food safety was rising before the Covid-19 pandemic and has grown since, according to a December 2020 survey. Consumers do trust local food suppliers and farmers over big grocery outlets, a trend that proved true during the pandemic. But, once a farmer’s food goes into a wholesale food chain, there are numerous other players involved in the purchase. Many of them are looking to ensure a farmer uses good handling practices.

A successful GAP audit assuages wholesale buyers’ concerns over food safety and handling practices from the farms they purchase from. It can be the difference between securing a new wholesale outlet channel for your products. Or not.

What is GAP?

First off, what is GAP? Or a GAP audit?

GAP is a voluntary audit program authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that verifies “fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.”

The audit verifies the product, not the farm, and covers more than 90 commodity fruits and vegetables. Local audit offices are available in every state, often working in conjunction with the state agricultural program.

A GAP audit occurs during the harvest and packing activities related to that product (not ahead of time or in the winter). The auditor will want to see how you harvest and pack that product. They will certify as many crops as they can while they are at your farm. Farms do have to pay for an audit. It’s an hourly charge and usually runs somewhere between $300 and $700 total for an audit. Some states do have programs to help offset the costs, make sure to ask. Because of the cost, most farms only bother to audit crops they expect to have a large quantity of.

Before getting an audit, you should carefully consider what crops you want to be audited, what buyers may require an audit and put into place a food safety plan.

The audit process certifiers follow is reasonably straightforward. It is linked HERE.

Who Requires a GAP Audit?

It is up to the buyer whether they require a GAP audit for farm purchases but generally, distributors, school purchasing programs and farmer sales cooperatives require a GAP audit.

GAP audits are essentially a way to ensure that a farm follows the latest standard of good food safety and handling standards. If something goes wrong, it is a way for the business that bought from that farm to show they did do their due diligence before purchasing produce from the farm that originated the problem.

Most chef buyers and restaurants don’t require GAP audits and many local grocery stores working directly with a local farm supplier may not need them. However, it is always a possibility. For a farmer that doesn’t want to go through a GAP audit process, it is best to ask a potential buyer what their requirements are before spending a lot of time pursuing a sales relationship.

So, Should You Get Your Farm GAP Audited?

At the end of the day, it is up to each farm whether they want to be GAP audited.

Some farms don’t like another layer of regulation and bureaucracy. They may be hesitant to have “officials” come to their farm. Other farms may find plenty of wholesale buyers who don’t require a GAP audit, so there is no need to go to the trouble.

However, many farms say that GAP audits were well worth the money and effort beyond pleasing their buyers. Having a plan in place standardizes tasks helping to ensure worker efficiency on the farm. A focus on food safety is a constant reminder to the entire farm staff to be mindful of good handling practices. And, is it an excellent selling point for a farm’s direct market sales as well (even if not needed), building trust with the local community.

Consumers are worried about food safety standards, especially in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Your wholesale buyers will reflect that worry. A GAP audit may be one more “thing to do” but also shows that your farm business is serious about food handling and is committed to meeting wholesale buyer’s standards.

For more information on navigating the GAP audit process, check out this great resource from the University of Minnesota —

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