GAP Connections – Filling the Voids of The Farming Industry

By Jane Howell Chadwell 
President, Executive Director at GAP Connections

The concept of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) has been developing for many years for various agricultural commodities. The United States Department of Agriculture began a program for fruits and vegetables in 2002. Following the USDA’s GAP Program implementation, the resulting policies, procedures, and methods have gone through a handful of changes – some proving less successful than others. Tobacco companies began developing their own GAP programs shortly afterward. For years, tobacco growers, who contracted with more than one company worked with various company GAP programs which resulted in duplicate efforts and confusion.

In 2013, a nonprofit organization surfaced with a mission to develop, maintain, and provide leadership for harmonized agricultural standards and practices, paying close attention to the needs of the tobacco industry in implementing an industry-wide GAP program. As a third party agricultural organization, GAP Connections was founded to simplify and streamline the processes that connect growers with purchasers and the regulations that oversee them both.

Farming continues to become more regulated than in years past. Environmental, labor, and other government regulations control many aspects of how growers conduct business. Laws also tend to differ from state to state. This has left many growers caught up in dealing with a thicket of red tape rather than what matters most – growing and harvesting their crop. In order to help remedy this issue, GAP Connections, in collaboration with companies, dealers, state departments, universities, grower associations, and other farm organizations such as Farm Bureau, created the U.S. Tobacco GAP program. Developed in the course of several months. The industry-wide program aims to ensure sustainable, economically viable and socially responsible production of useable tobacco grown using agricultural practices which produce a quality crop while protecting, sustaining or enhancing the environment with regard to soil, water, air, animal and plant life as well as protecting and ensuring the rights of farm laborers.

GAP Connections acts as a liaison connecting the growers, the industry members and purchasing companies who participate in the program and make-up the supply chain of the tobacco industry. The efforts put forth are more than just the creation of guidelines and best practices, as a hands-on approach is believed to be the best method for making a difference. Growers are united around good agricultural practices brought to them by experienced Extension educators and GAP Connections representatives who work to ensure compliance, streamline processes, and lessen the burden of growing crops overall. These connections bring the U.S. Tobacco industry full circle. By creating and offering a transparent set of accepted producer standards, the US Tobacco GAP program provides assurance of quality results and helps producers stay compliant through continued education and documentation. Associate members such as private and public organizations who support the mission are also given regular opportunities to voice their experienced opinions as well. Without the expertise from universities and governmental agencies, the practices and procedures that make up GAP Connections wouldn’t be possible. By pooling together everyone involved in the growing and purchasing of agricultural products together with the regulatory community, the regulatory processes no longer have to be a detriment to the people working in the field and beyond.

The act of growing, producing, selling and purchasing of tobacco can be cumbersome and with so many rules and regulations governing the agricultural industry, both buyers and growers may feel as if there is always an eye peering over their shoulder and more obstacles being placed in their path. GAP Connections strives to keep this form being the case. To find out more, contact us today and make sure to stay tuned to this 3-part blog series about what GAP Connections is and the power it has to change the agricultural industry for the better.