Resources for Growers to Build a Better Tomorrow

By Jane Howell Chadwell 
President, Executive Director at GAP Connections

One of the main points of motivation behind the creation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is the goal of improving the day-to-day lives of the men and women who are absolutely paramount in the agricultural industry – farmers. In the previous entry of this three-part blog series, the overall structure and aim of the nonprofit organization, GAP Connections, was described. For part two, the focus will be on the growers themselves and GAP Connection’s dedication to connect them to education, resources and tools they can use to implement ever better farming practices.

As previously discussed, GAP Connections acts as a liaison between growers and purchasing companies, ultimately uniting farmers nationwide around good agricultural practices. Given the current differences in state rules and regulations regarding agriculture as well as the numerous federal labor regulations, growers - especially in the tobacco industry - are now more than ever having to dedicate more time and effort to understanding the regulatory environment they work in. Solving this issue will not be easy to accomplish. But, if more growers across the nation are introduced to a streamlined set of guidelines for production and worker training that they can readily implement, then compliance with GAP standards through adopting best labor, environmental and crop management practices and proper record keeping can be much enhanced. Providing these guidelines is one of the key functions of GAP Connections.

The largest effort by GAP Connections is in education and training. GAP Connections believes it is not enough to just give growers guidelines, we have to create opportunities and resources to help them adopt those practices within the guidelines. GAP Connections, in partnership with land-grant Extension programs coordinates training meetings where growers learn from experts about the latest crop, environmental, and labor best management practices. In 2014, close to 10,000 growers attended one of the 120 training meetings offered in 11 states. These meetings generally last around 2-hours with plenty scheduled throughout the year in a variety of states – all accessible via GAP Connections’ calendar. In addition to training, numerous resources are offered to better the daily lives of growers such as seminars from the NCDOL Occupational Safety and Health Division's Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau on preventing and treating green tobacco sickness, tips and templates for yearly record keeping, and regular safety training for agricultural workers in a variety of fields.

For growers, GAP Connections serves as a tool for better production, compliance and safety. One of the most advantageous tools offered is the Grower ID System which helps farmers easily keep track of and share their GAP compliance records with purchasing companies. The Grower ID System assigns each member a unique ID number that is stored in a secured database. An ID card with a QR code for scanning allows immediate documentation of training with no need to keep paper records. As a member, growers can use their grower ID number to enter the GAPC data base and update their profile to include information such as addresses, farm acreage and contact information, view their GAP training transcripts, review a report of contracting companies granted access to their information, and much more. Any member can login at any time using GAP Connections’ webpage. With the Grower ID System, growers no longer have to shuffle paper around to access or share their GAP efforts and can maintain their GAP information year to year quickly and easily.

Through a combined effort with the Farm Labor Practices Group (FLPG), GAP Connections brings growers another vital resource in the form of the 2015 Agricultural Labor Management Guide. Developed by the Farm Labor Practices Group, a group of key stakeholders including manufacturers, buyers, government and non-government organizations as well as the growers themselves, the guide sets out to provide useful information about good farm labor practices and the regulations associated with them. Federal and state compliance is essential in the agricultural industry, and ensuring that farmers and farmworkers operate safely following the applicable laws is a prime target of GAP Connections. In addition to the guide, GAP Connections offer growers and the industry compliance checkups from a dedicated team of highly-trained professionals who visit farms to check compliance.

To find out more about GAP Connections’ benefits to this nation’s farmers, contact ustoday and make sure to check out part three of this blog series to learn even more about how GAP Connections has the power to change the agricultural industry for the better.