Tag Archives: AREC

Extension is ahead of the curve on new food safety rules

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

As part of its grower services program, the Local Food Hub’s Adrianna Vargo conducts a mock audit of Singing Earth Farm in Augusta County.

Adrianna Vargo, director of grower services at Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub, has collaborated with Virginia Cooperative Extension to get critical information to growers regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s new Food Safety Modernization Act. Its aim is to make the food supply safer by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination problems to preventing them from occurring. The policy is the most sweeping reform of U.S. food safety laws for both human and animal foods in 70 years.

Vargo and Extension have acted as boots-on-the-ground liaisons for more than 60 growers throughout Virginia and in North Carolina by providing critical workshops to ensure producers will be able to comply with FSMA legislation.

“One of the aspects of this legislation that has been a huge concern for growers is water testing. FSMA requires so many more water tests throughout the growing season,” Vargo said. “Extension has been an invaluable resource for training. They have been very inclusive and responsive to growers’ needs.”

While implementation of updated food safety rules could be tricky for producers and others in the food supply chain, the new FSMA rules have been on Virginia Cooperative Extension’s radar for a long time. Extension has already been training growers and listening to the challenges they could face when the new rules go into effect after a grace period over the next couple of years.

“As Extension, we see a wide variety of needs, said Amber Vallotton, the state fresh produce food safety coordinator. “We already collaborate on a lot of programs for growers that address the issues that fall under FSMA. All of the trainings have been to push the whole point of understanding risk and preventive measures.”

Laura Strawn, an assistant professor of food science and technology and produce safety specialist at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center, heads up technical resources, education, and outreach for Virginia through the FSMA Southern Training Center, part of a network of USDA-funded regional centers charged with helping stakeholders comply with FSMA rules. The Southern Training Center, represented by academic and industry experts, uses a “train the trainer” model to train others about the new regulations and requirements. Ultimately, these new trainers teach the growers.

As a lead instructor in both the Produce Safety Alliance and the Food Safety Preventive Controls Alliance curricula, Strawn has partnered with several grower associations and commodity boards, including the Northern Neck Vegetable Growers Association and the Virginia Apple Board, as well as the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and nongovernmental organizations like the Local Food Hub to provide FSMA trainings.

“We are well-prepared for the FSMA rules affecting the produce industry here in Virginia,” Strawn said. “Over the past year alone, we have communicated with several hundred growers throughout Virginia to discuss standards and compliance dates with the FSMA rules.”

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Soybeans come out on top

AgExpo 2009, VCE, soybeans in field

Soybeans are an important staple of Virginia agricultural exports and are among the top five crops exported to markets overseas. In the last agricultural census, soybeans were also the top revenue-generating crop with more than $300 million in sales.

The lucrative Virginia crop is sought out as far away as Japan, where fermented soybeans are eaten as a breakfast item called natto.

Hillary Mehl, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science, is working to keep Virginia a sustainable, soybean-producing powerhouse.

Mehl conducts research at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Suffolk and works to better understand fungicides and their role in cultivating soybeans in the commonwealth.

“Part of our work at the AREC is looking at fungicide resistance in row crops, including soybeans,” said Mehl.

Recently she has been researching fungicide resistance of a disease that threatens soybeans, called frogeye leaf spot. The fungus creates brownish circular spots on leaves that can turn into large patches of blight.

She also collects weather-based information that allows her to determine the most optimal time for her constituents to apply fungicides.

“Ultimately this research will allow growers to forgo fungicide applications when they are not needed, which is good for the environment, and optimize application timings when they are needed to protect yield and farmer profits,” said Mehl.

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