Growers, conservationists, food safety professionals discuss food safety, water quality

Aug 27, 2013

Growers, conservationists, food safety professionals discuss food safety, water quality

Fresh produce growers are required by law to protect soil and water quality on their farms as well as support wildlife populations by preserving their habitat. At the same time, growers must protect their crops from contamination by pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses. None of this is cheap or easy.

To help farmers and growers efficiently achieve the best results, the University of California Cooperative Extension, in collaboration with the Farm Food Safety and Conservation Network brought together 80 people on Aug. 21 for the sixth annual Food Safety and Water Quality Co-management Forum in Watsonville. 

"The Farm, Food Safety & Conservation Network is leading the way in co-management of California's agricultural resources,” said Craig McNamara, president of the California Board of Food and Agriculture. “Their recent forum on food safety and water quality brought together the best and the brightest from the Central Coast region to discuss these important issues."

McNamara, who was the keynote speaker, provided his perspective on broadening the view of food safety to include managing agriculture within the context of sustainable agriculture, ecosystem conservation and food insecurity. He also related the discussion of co-management to California’s Ag Vision 2030, a stakeholder-driven process of setting priorities for the future of California agriculture.

Forum participants heard the latest information on designing on-farm practices that might create co-management solutions for nutrients, pesticides and pathogens in the production environment. They also engaged in frank discussion of co-management challenges and solutions at all levels of the supply chain, from large company policies to field-level practices of individual growers.

“Research results show us that we do know quite a bit’ explained Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “The question now is how do we put that knowledge into action?  How can we move towards design and management of on-the-ground management practices and policy programs that reflect our evolving understanding?”  

The forum concentrated on the types of practices and policy programs that may help, and discussed strategies, both field-based and policy-driven, that might support progress in addressing persistent resource concerns relevant to agricultural production.

“The forum presents a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning about the key co-management issues on the Central Coast and is a great way to network with experts in the field,” said Afreen Malik, Ocean Mist Farms manager of Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship. 

Scientists led a discussion on the fate and transport of nutrients, pesticides, and pathogens and how science can be applied to design practices for co-management decisions in the field. The scientific panel included Tim Hartz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis; Rob Atwill, UCCE specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security;  and Brian Anderson, UC Davis specialist based at the Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory at Granite Canyon.  

A panel of industry leaders discussed how policy changes and decision-support tools could support sound co-management. The panel included Ken Harris, executive officer of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board;   Asif Maan, branch chief of CDFA Feed, Fertilizer, and Livestock Drugs Regulatory Services;  Kris Gavin of Growers Express;  Scott Horsfall, CEO of Leafy Greens Handlers Marketing Agreement; and   Lisa Lurie of Santa Cruz Resource Conservation District.

Following the panel discussions, participants visited an organic vegetable and berry farm near Watsonville. The landowner, growers and food safety professionals discussed how they manage for both food safety and environmental quality, which some people see as conflicting priorities.

“I don’t see any conflicts between properly implemented co-management practices and protection of water quality,” said Ken Harris, executive officer of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board after completing a field exercise at the ALBA Triple M Ranch outside Watsonville.

Brendan Miele, director of California farming operations for Jacobs Farm/del Cabo Inc., added, “I would say the same thing, but would change that to food safety.”

Participants were surveyed before and after the forum. “After the forum, 88 percent of the participants felt they understood co-management principles, 14 percent higher than before the forum,” Bianchi said, “and 85 percent of the participants felt that they could incorporate what they learned into the decisions they make.”



By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach