GAP vs. GroupGAP: Which is better? Which is cheaper?

GAP, which stands for “Good Agricultural Practices,” is a farm certification program run by USDA. Many small farmers feel GAP is not accessible to them, either from a cost perspective or because USDA built the program with much larger farms in mind.  Recently, USDA rolled out something called “GroupGAP,” which is supposed to be friendlier to smaller farms by allowing them to apply for GAP as a group.  But, is it any better?

Our intern, Clare Healy, spent the whole summer doing research to find out.  The bulk of her research went towards just understanding the cost of each, which took months of research and phone calls to sort out.  Because there are so many factors that affect the cost, we have compiled her research into one easy to read and adjust graph.  (Thanks to Nick Henry and Greg Epstein for handling the math part of this creation.)

Graph of GAP versus GroupGAP (click on the image below to view)

After that, Clare tracked down a few farms that got certified with GAP and some in GroupGAP. Below are two testimonials from each.

GAP (Individual): Blue Sky Farms, Litchfield Park, Arizona.

Farm background: Blue Sky Farms has been growing fruits and vegetables on their 35 acres for twenty years.

The representative from Blue Sky Farms (BSF) reported no challenges to GAP certification.  Previous certification experience includes Organic certification; the farmers for Blue Sky are currently seeking dual certification under Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).  BSF was reimbursed 75% of their auditing costs through the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA).  The BSF representative recalls the auditing cost at roughly $1,000, with around $700 being reimbursed by the ADA.  She added that certification definitely felt worth it, as food safety is a big concern, and she would recommend the process to other growers.

GroupGAP: Upper Peninsula Food Exchange GroupGAP Pilot, various locations in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan.

Group background: Farmers growing fruits and vegetables on six or fewer acres; average farming or personal gardening experience is 15 years; average total gross income of $6,000-10,000.

Challenges: Of the sixteen initial farms involved in the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange GroupGAP pilot, ten completed the program and subsequently became GroupGAP certified.  Some farmers expressed apprehension and concern over the costs of GroupGAP for their small group if state or partnering organizational subsidies were to be removed.  Farmers also expressed feeling overwhelmed by steps to certification and the amount of paperwork needed.  According to the Upper Peninsula Food Exchange:

“Record keeping (a necessary daily activity to stay in compliance) was most noted as a significant challenge of GroupGAP; farmers noted the significant amount of time and effort needed for keeping records and updating them as well as customizing log books. Most found that the actual practices were in line with what they were already doing but necessitated some minor and in some cases time-consuming changes. The group also felt pressure to not let their fellow participant farmers down. While this was a worry, the group pressure also acted as an insurance method to keep each participating farm in daily compliance, adhering to food safety manual and QMS policy.”

Successes: All group members reported feeling at the forefront of preparedness in food safety protocol.  Additionally, they felt more safe and supported in the group structure, and came to depend on one another.

For More Information

There is much more information readily available online regarding GroupGAP experiences; if you would like to contact an individually GAP certified farm for more information please see the database of GAP certified growers.

For more information, including a webinar of GroupGAP testimonials, visit the National Good Food Network.





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