Friday Feature:  Defining GMOs in Food

Friday Feature: Defining GMOs in Food

This week’s featured video was published by Iowa State University to help explain what genetically modified organisms or GMOs are and why these crops are used.  This is a very controversial topic, with contrasting points of view trying to inform consumers about GMOs in foods.  Many consumers really don’t understand what GMOs are, or the science behind their use.  Dr. Ruth Macdon, Chair of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Iowa State University provides a science-based overview that can be used to share on social media or shared with people who ask questions about the safety of GMO crops.


If you enjoyed this video, you might want to check out the featured videos from previous weeks:  Friday Features

If you come across an interesting or humorous video, or a new product innovation related to agriculture, please send in a link, so we can share it with our readers. Send video links to:  Doug Mayo

Water Source Recommendations for Food Safety

Water Source Recommendations for Food Safety

Supplemental water is necessary for good crop yields in fruit and vegetable production. Water quality is equally as important as water quantity when it comes to fruit and vegetable production. Unfortunately, water can transport harmful microorganisms from adjacent lands or other areas of the farm. The water source and how the water is applied influence the risk for crop contamination to occur.

Water is used for various purposes during production: harvesting, and handling fresh produce, irrigation, cooling, frost protection, as a carrier for fertilizers and pesticides, and for washing tools and harvest containers, hand washing, and drinking.

Washing lettuce. Photo Credit: Cornell University Extension

The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) proposed water compliance date is not until 2022, but it will be here before you know it. Water quality is an important component of a Food Safety Plan. A good first step in ensuring compliance with FSMA water quality standards is to evaluate the water sources on the farm.  For more information on compliance dates, please visit the Produce Safety Alliance’s Website.

Water Source

The three common sources of water used on farms are surface water, well water, and municipal water.

Surface water includes ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. It is at the highest risk for contamination because there is limited control on what flows downstream or from adjacent land. Wild and domestic animals, manure piles, and sewage discharges are all potential sources of contamination in surface waters.

The most common water source for North Florida farms is well water. Well water used for farming is at a moderate risk of becoming contaminated, when compared to surface water (highest risk) and municipal water (lowest risk). Wells are at a higher risk of becoming contaminated when located near flood zones, septic tanks, drainage fields, and manure/compost storage areas. The risk of contamination is further heightened if the well was not constructed properly, or if the casing is cracked. Wells should be properly sited, constructed, and maintained to keep contamination risks lower.

a well pump

A recently installed well pump on a North Florida watermelon farm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Well Design and Construction

  • Preliminary Investigation – A preliminary investigation helps determine the design of a well. Existing wells in the area should be checked out to help determine depth and potential capacity. If records for the area aren’t available, then test holes should be drilled to determine the best location for water production.
  • Casing – Casing material should be determined based on site characteristics. The casing needs to extend above the surface water level to reduce contamination risks. The casing is sealed in place with grout. A poor grouting job can also promote contamination. Casing diameter is selected based on well capacity.
  • Well Screen – A commercially designed well screen should be installed to minimize hydraulic head loss. Screen diameter and material should be determined based on the preliminary investigation results. Gravel packing is recommended in some areas.

For more recommendations on well design and construction, please visit the University of Florida/IFAS publication: Design and Construction of Screened Wells for Agricultural Irrigation Systems

Please note that it is important to monitor your well water quality at least twice during each growing season.  A list of FSMA approved water testing methods can be found at Cornell University’s Law School Website.


Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference Agenda Now Available!

Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference Agenda Now Available!

Join us for the Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference on February 19 & 20 in Pensacola! Registration includes a farm tour, dinner after the tour, breakfast & lunch the next day, and excellent educational sessions. The complete agenda is now available.  Use your mouse or finger to “click” on the image below for full screen viewing.  Register online at:  Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference Registration Page

Click your mouse on the image for full screen viewing.

Where to Start with Marketing Fresh Produce?

Where to Start with Marketing Fresh Produce?

Marketing fresh produce effectively is key to business sustainability.

The local food movement has grown tremendously over the past several years. People have become more interested in how their food is produced and where it comes from. New farms have popped up to try to satisfy this demand. You might be one of these new farmers and you probably chose to take this endeavor on because you love marketing!….or probably not. Most beginning farmers are drawn to the industry because of the benefits of working for themselves, working with and in nature, and/or growing their own food. Those are all great aspects of growing fresh produce, but to make it a sustainable business you have to sell it to somebody for a price that will earn a profit.

Realizing that many new or beginning fresh produce farmers are not enamored with the idea of marketing, and maybe have even jumped into their project without fully exploring this important task, there are some practices that must be considered:

  1. Check with Local Municipalities for proper licensing and permits:

    The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is the regulatory authority for selling produce in Florida. FDACS does not require a license or permit to sell fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables to many markets. However, county and/or city permits may be required in your area to sell fresh, unprocessed produce.

  2. Food Safety:

    Foodborne illnesses are a serious issue that require the attention of growers and buyers. Considering the complexity of the food system, there is potential for widespread foodborne illnesses to occur because of contaminated produce. Food safety plans are required by the buyer for some markets (distributors, large retail groceries, etc.) while most direct to consumer sales do not require a written food safety plan. However, food safety plans are not difficult to make and will help prevent foodborne illnesses. There are also new federal regulations that growers must be aware of.  Read this article to see if your farm is exempt or not:  Things You Should Know About Farm Food Safety

  3. Insurance:

    Insurance is important for any farm or business. It can protect against accident related losses on the farm, or cover the farm products once they leave the farm. Communicate with the potential buyer to find the minimum requirements necessary to supply to their companies. After the requirements are discovered, consult with an insurance professional on your operations insurance needs.

  4. Volume/Supply:

    The amount of product can be a limiting factor for beginning growers. Some markets prefer to purchase in large quantities, such as by the pallet or by the truckload. Typically, small growers sell low volumes of product for premium prices at specialty markets where customers are willing to spend more to purchase directly from the grower. Because of this, specialty market growers generally can be successful on a smaller area of cultivated land. Conversely, when selling to wholesale buyers and distributors, the farmer can expect to receive less for their goods, but will make up for it in the quantity in which they sell. It sometimes requires a different mindset than many small growers have, and this must be heavily considered before entering these types of markets.

    Supply must be consistent throughout the harvesting season when using the wholesale and distribution markets. Small growers who sell directly to consumers have experience with this as they strive to bring the variety of different products to their customers each and every week. In the same manner, a grower selling to larger markets must not only have consistent supply, but have it in the larger quantities in order to satisfy the buyer, and make a profit with lower prices. Multiple plantings, continuously bearing crops, and communication on availability are all key in providing the buyer with realistic expectations of the products the farmer will have or currently has in hand.

These are just a few of many subjects related to marketing that need to be pondered before ever planting a crop. The Gulf Coast Small Farms team of UF/IFAS Extension faculty have created short checklists for six different types of marketing opportunities for fresh produce growers looking to enter specific markets. These publications will not give all of the information necessary to begin to sell in the market, but will give new producers a good starting point.

Produce Marketing Checklists:

These publications and more are available at the Panhandle Produce Pointers website.  For more information on marketing fresh produce grown on your farm, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent.


Do the New Food Safety Standards Apply to Your Farm?

Do the New Food Safety Standards Apply to Your Farm?

If you are a produce farmer, you should have heard about the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, by now. This act, which was passed in 2011, is considered the largest update to food safety regulation in over 80 years.

The proposed produce safety rule under the FSMA is very robust, establishing the minimum standards for worker training, health and hygiene, agricultural water use, animal soil amendments, on-farm domesticated and wild animals, equipment, tools, buildings, and sprout production. But just who does the new food safety rule affect?

First, the rule does not apply to produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity, or commodities the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified as “rarely consumed raw.” Secondly, if your farm has an average value of produce sold of $25,000 or less within the previous three years, you are also exempt.

Fresh cucumbers, for example, are considered a raw commodity. But cucumbers that will undergo further processing, such as for pickling, would be eligible for exemption from the produce rule. Photo by Molly Jameson.

If you do produce an agricultural commodity in which the rule applies, and the value of your produce sold is over $25,000, it is still possible that your farm might be exempt from most of the requirements. For instance, if the average annual monetary value of food sold directly to qualified end-users was more than the average annual value of the food sold to all other buyers within the previous three-year period, you meet the first half of exemption eligibility. A “qualified end-user” is considered the consumer of the food, or restaurant or retail food establishment, located within the same state as the farm that produced the food (or no more than 275 miles).

If you meet the above exemption eligibility standards, you must also meet the second requirement. That is, the average annual monetary value of all food sold during the three-year period must be less than $500,000, when adjusted for inflation.

Not sure if you are exempt? View the chart developed by the FDA: Standards for Produce Safety – Coverage and Exemptions/Exclusions for Proposed 21 PART 112.

Whether you will be exempt from the FSMA produce safety rule or not, it is always a good idea to follow good agricultural practices and to have a farm food safety plan. To learn more about food safety on the farm, view the University of Florida IFAS document Food Safety on the Farm: An Overview of Good Agricultural Practices.

The UF/IFAS Small Farms Academy is offering a Building Your Own Farm’s Food Safety Manual Workshop in Tallahassee to help growers develop their own food safety manuals. This workshop is tailored to fresh fruit and vegetable farms, fields, or greenhouses, and is partially supported by a grant through the Florida Specialty Crops Block Grant program from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The registration fee is $35 for the first person representing a farm, and $15 for an additional attendee from that farm. The workshop is limited to 20 farms on a first come, first serve basis.

The workshop will take place at the Amtrak Station, County Community Room, 918 Railroad Ave, in Tallahassee, FL, on Tuesday, May 23, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Register on Eventbrite by following this link:

Please note, this class will help you develop your farm’s food safety manual, but it does NOT fulfill the new FDA FSMA one-time training requirement.


Things You Should Know About Farm Food Safety

Things You Should Know About Farm Food Safety

It seems like years ago that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law, but it was actually 2011.  With a new congress convening this week, and the inauguration of President-Elect Donald Trump on January 20th, the outlook for FSMA is unpredictable.  Whatever the future may hold, there are a number of important food safety compliance facts you should know.

Exempt/Excluded Status

Depending on the size of your farm, what you grow, or your clientele, you may be exempt or excluded from FSMA.  Whatever your status may be, it is important that you understand food safety protocol and that you proactively and reactively reduce food safety risks on your farm.

  • Farms that have an annual value of produce sold of $25,000 (based on a three year average, adjusted for inflation) or less are not covered by the regulation.
  • The farm must have food sales less than $500,000 per year (based on a three year average, adjusted for inflation) AND the farm’s direct sales to qualified end-users must exceed sales to all buyers combined during the previous three years. (A qualified end-user is either the consumer of the food or a restaurant or retail food establishment that is located in the same state or the same Indian reservation as the farm or not more than 275 miles away.)
  • Produce Not Covered by the Regulation
    • Produce commodities that FDA has identified as rarely consumed raw: asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates; dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; ginger; hazelnuts; horseradish; lentils; okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts.
    • Produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption.
    • Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity.  (A raw agricultural commodity is any food in its raw or natural state.)
  • A farm with the qualified exemption must still meet certain modified requirements, including prominently and conspicuously displaying the name and the complete business address of the farm where the produce was grown either on the label of the produce or at the point of purchase.

Compliance Deadlines

Required compliance dates are set based on farm size – the larger the farm, the sooner it will need to be in compliance.

  • Very small businesses, defined as greater than $25,000 but less than $250,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within four years.
  • Small businesses, defined as greater than $250,000 but less than $500,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within three years.
  • All other businesses, defined as greater than $500,000 in average annual (previous three year period) produce sales, will need to comply with the regulation within two years of the effective date.
  • Compliance dates for farms eligible for qualified exemptions are:
    • Labeling requirements (if applicable): January 1, 2020
    • Retention of records supporting eligibility for a qualified exemption: Effective date of final rule (January 26, 2016)
    • For all other modified requirements for farms growing covered produce other than sprouts: Very small businesses—4 years, Small businesses—3 years

Note:  The compliance dates for certain aspects of the agricultural water requirements allow an additional two years beyond each of these compliance dates.

Washing lettuce. Photo Credit: Cornell University Extension

Employee Training

Regardless of whether your farm has implemented a food safety plan or not, the FDA requires approved training under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule.

  • At least one supervisor or responsible party from a farm subject to the FSMA Produce Safety Rule must have successfully completed food safety training, at least equivalent to the standardized curriculum recognized as adequate by the FDA.
  • All workers that handle or contact covered produce or supervise workers must be trained based on FSMA standards.  Everyone working on the farm should receive annual instruction on how to accomplish his/her job.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should be developed to provide clear step-by-step instructions for how workers should complete their daily tasks.
  • Visitors to the farm must be made aware of food safety policies set by the farm, and visitors must have access to toilet and handwashing facilities.

To read more on FSMA, please visit The Food Safety Modernization Act and the FDA Facility Registration Program.

An approved Food Safety Training is scheduled for February 13 in Marianna at the Jackson County Extension Office.  For more information, and to register for the training, please visit:

Farm Food Safety Certification Training – February 13