Most of you reading this remember well the old public service announcement question, "Do you know where your children are?" Usually running just before the 11 o'clock news broadcast, it was a simple but powerful admonishment to not take anything for granted and to be alert.
These days for us, it's more important to ask, "Do you know where your produce is?"
And not only do you have to know where it is, but you also need to know where it was and where it will be!
With the signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act in January and the pending (or impending, depending on your views) implementation proposals for produce safety regulation, which will set enforceable standards at the farm and packinghouse, the future of tracing and tracking should becoming more clear, including your responsibilities moving forward.
Will it be more work for you and your operation? Undoubtedly. You'll be looking at more precise recordkeeping requirements, more technology-based tracing, more paperwork, and, ultimately, more of the non-growing end of the job. Most of us don't relish the idea of more bureaucracy or paperwork in any part of our lives, least of all when we already have plenty to juggle, but it's coming down the road, so you might as well get ready.
Many of you already have detailed recordkeeping and tracking implemented. Some of you have embraced one of the sophisticated technological systems for tracing that are out there. A few of you may be way out ahead of the curve. You may not only be finding the peace of mind knowing the who, what, where and when of your business but some noticeable bottom-line benefits.
So, with the understanding that the industry is moving ahead, how can you take advantage of it?
Aside from the possible business and technology benefits of increased efficiency, there are some pretty significant perception opportunities. It's been a rough last few years of recalls, food safety black eyes and industry scrambling.
Embrace tracing and tracking for the sake of food safety and security, and you confirm to our consumers that you care deeply about the product they're buying - enough to invest in your business. Open up to the public about your solid, well-thought-out policies and procedures for tracking products, and you give them confidence in you and the industry.
There's a certain well-known politician who's oft quoted as saying, "never let a good crisis go to waste." Political opportunism or not, there's something to be said for owning the issue and providing an answer.
You can do that - and you don't need to wait on the government to lead the way.
Again, if you're already tracking, tracing and running toward the future, be an advocate and assist your fellow growers. Find time and make yourself available to help others in your area with their questions and implementation issues. Your experience is invaluable, and the connections you make are the connections you keep. If you want to start making changes and aren't sure where to start, reach out to your peers.
Each one of you is a business, but we are all, as one, an industry - an amazing, powerful and essential industry. When the industry succeeds, our individual businesses benefit.
Remember, a rising tide floats all ships.