WENATCHEE — Dryden orchardist Vince Bland started off the growing season feeling pretty good about how much he’d done to show he was adhering to good agricultural practices.
He had new eye-washing station and a schedule for getting his portable toilets cleaned.
He cleaned out his pesticide shed, and could show the last time he changed the oil in his tractor.
He even had signs up to keep people from wandering into his orchard.
Then came his pre-audit, a first look at whether he would pass the test if he were among the 10 percent of growers at his packing house randomly chosen for the real audit.
“I had my mind on getting this thing done, but then they started picking things apart,” Bland said in a recent interview.
As an example, he said, he had his pesticide container washed out and stored upside-down in a bin to be recycled. “I didn’t have a lid on it, and I didn’t have a label on the bin,” he said.
The pre-auditor told him he could put the container in the garbage that way, but not store it for recycling.
“I told them, ‘You know everybody’s trying to recycle, and you’re trying to push us into just throwing it away,” he recalled.
Bland said although he was upset after his first pre-audit, his list of changes wasn’t long or insurmountable, even if some of the items frustrated him.
“It hasn’t turned out as bad as what we were all freaking out about,” he said. That is, as long as the standards don’t change next year, forcing him to go through a whole slew of new requirements.
Other orchardists working to be certified under Global GAP agreed.
This is the first year that some packing houses in the Wenatchee Valley are requiring growers to comply with a GAP, or Good Agricultural Practice program, after Walmart announced last November it will stop buying fruits and vegetables without it by the end of next July.
“Initially, I was a little overwhelmed. But after going through the manual, I saw there were a lot of things we were already doing, and the stuff we weren’t we probably should be. It wasn’t that bad,” said Joel Reed, who manages Clennon Orchards in Wenatchee and Leavenworth.
“Our fruit was already safe, and now it’s even safer, I guess,” he said, adding, “To my knowledge, there have never been any issues with people getting sick from tree fruits. But we just want to have our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed if it does ever happen,” he said.
Reed said the cost of continuing audits, along with the possibility that standards will continue to change, are his biggest concerns.
Steve Hauff, who grows 42 acres of pears, apples and cherries in Peshastin, said he feels most of the safety standards apply more to row crops.
“But food safety is a very important topic. We want to make sure the people who consume our foods are satisfied with the safety measures,” he said.
Hauff said many of the requirements were already guidelines from the state Department of Labor and Industries. “If people already had that, you were basically half-way home.”
And now that he has everything in place, Hauff figures it will be easy to continue with the program next year.
“As long as they’re consistently applied from year to year, it should be fairly easy to maintain that,” he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512