There has been increased interest in the past several years across the entire tobacco industry to develop a standardized program for Good Agricultural Practices for growers. Approximately 10,000 tobacco growers in the U.S. received GAP training in 2013. This year, tobacco growers are asked to register with the GAP Grower Identification system.
Growers attending GAP training in 2013 received a GAP certificate that was proof that they had attended GAP training. A major advancement that has occurred in 2014 is the development of the GAP Grower Identification system. This advancement stemmed from the development of a third party entity called GAP Connections, housed in Knoxville TN, that has the responsibility of managing the entire GAP program in the U.S. through input from member companies that have representatives on the GAP executive committee.
In 2014, growers are asked to register in the GAP system on the GAP Connections website. The registration process is simple, asking for basic information (name, address, birth date, type of tobacco grown, and number of acres) and takes only minutes to complete. Once registered, a temporary Grower ID card can be printed and a permanent card will be mailed within 2-3 weeks.
Growers coming to GAP training should bring their temporary or permanent card to the training where it will be scanned and sent electronically to the GAP Connections database for attendance. When growers sign their marketing contracts, they will be asked to sign a disclosure allowing their marketing company to access their GAP training attendance record in the GAP database. At some point in the future, growers may also be asked to enter their records in the GAP database.
Extension personnel at land-grant universities in most tobacco producing states have been providing growers with information on improved production practices for a century. The tobacco industry desired a standardized GAP program that could be used across multiple tobacco types and states with training information and a record-keeping system that would be acceptable to all tobacco buying entities.
The U.S. Tobacco GAP Program has provided a platform to increase transparency and accountability in tobacco production by increasing awareness, adoption, and implementation of good agricultural practices. It is in every tobacco grower’s best interest to register in the GAP system, attend GAP trainings and implement these principles on their farm, and keep accurate records of these practices
GAP training system now standard
Between 2010 and 2012, growers that had multiple tobacco marketing contracts were required to attend multiple GAP trainings each year where much of the same information was offered. 2013 was the first year that a standardized GAP training system was implemented nationwide where growers only needed to attend one GAP training to be certified for any buying company that required them to have GAP training. This has saved considerable time and effort on the part of growers attending trainings, and Extension personnel conducting the trainings.
Currently, the standardized GAP training involves information on the 3 components of GAP—Crop Management, Environmental Management, and Labor Management. GAP trainings usually involve about half an hour for each component, and so the entire training lasts about 1.5 hours. The overall mission of the GAP program for tobacco is to train growers on the use of Good Agricultural Practices, and also make periodic assessments of their production practices to make sure they are in compliance with GAP principles based mainly on their GAP records.
Although the training portion of the GAP program is now standardized, the assessment portion is still being done by individual companies. A future goal of the GAP program is to also implement a standardized GAP assessment program where a grower could undergo one GAP assessment over a period of time and that assessment would be recognized by all companies.