It may be the time for turkey, but not before growers in the Pacific Northwest gathered for the annual Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association Conference in Kennewick, Washington. Specific to the region, heavy focus was placed on onions and organics; however, other sessions dealt with pest management and general vegetables.

Here are some takeaways from the two-day event:

Filling the Global GAP

“It’s the most hated aspect of farming,” said Julia Ogden of the The Farm Plan of the Global GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification process. The farm assurance program is standard that is required for most of the major suppliers in the country. Ogde, who runs a cherry farm in Washington state, provided insight about Global GAP “from a farmer’s point of view” during a session at the PVNA conference.

Her service that helps growers navigate through the Global GAP process, said it’s frustrating for most farmers when it’s time to get certified.

“You already doing thing things that are demanded. So why do they demand that you prove it?” she posed to the PNVA crowd. “They are not regulations; they are kind of policies. But they are policies that Saveway, Albertson’s, Costco, Fredo Lay, Wal-Mart want. They are demanding Global GAP.”

Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association Conference

Juli Ogden of the The Farm Plan speaks at the Pacific Northwest Vegetable Association Conference in Kennewick, Washington.

With a count of 200,000 farms that are certified in Global GAP, the number will continue to grow, Ogden said.

“It’s just now catching on in the United States,” she stated. “(Global GAP) came to the West Coast first and its working its way east. Buyers are demanding Global GAP over other programs.”

Ogden provide some examples of ways to earn certification such as chemical spill kit maintenance, and worker and food safety. She also noted that although the process is very detailed, Global GAP is boiled down to a few central points.

“It’s simply playing a game of ‘What if?’,” she said. “What if the neighbor’s cattle ran off into my potato field? A risk assessment is making up the possible problems, creating a management plan if they happen, and rating how likely it would happen.”

Neonics is our friend

When the largest pollinator in the Northwest speaks, people should listen. Eric Olson, owner of Olson’s Honey, has more than 18,000 hives at his Yakima, Washington business. The recently retired Olson gave the keynote address during the PNVA conference to discuss his industry’s success as well as his thoughts on neonicotinoid pesticides.

Known as “neonics,” the pesticide is banned in the state of Maryland as well as countries like Germany, France and Italy. The ban is due to studies claiming a link to neonics with the decline of the bee population, a claim Olson vehemently disagreed with.

Everytime you see an article in the newspaper about the loss of bees, it automatically says it’s because of neonics,” he said. “That just fires me up. Neonics are our friends.”

Olson cited a study done by Washington State University published last August noting that the hazardous exposure of neonics “are not likely to occur in a real-life setting.”

“There is not one single scientific study done in the area that substantiates neonics hurting bees,” Olson told the PNVA audience. “Tim Lawrence [from Washington State] commissioned a study of urban bees, rural bees and commercial bees. What he found was zero neonics in the urban, rual and a very minut trace in the commercial. No substantiation whatsoever with neonics in the way that farmers are using.”

Olson also stated that proponents of the neonics ban are missing the point entirely.

“You can kill bees with anything in the lab if you want it too. I think it’s bogus science,” he said. “I don’t buy it. I keep bees year around in my orchard. I plant dutch clover as a cover crop. I planted things that work for the bees. Nutrition and the rural mite are the real problem.”