Is the time ripe for a grower certification program measuring sustainability efforts to thrive in the United States?
With issues like sustainability and organic growing becoming hot topics among growers, Doug Cole, D.S. Cole Growers, Loudon, N.H., thought it was time for growers to become proactive and explore how the possible implementation of a certification program, such as the popular MPS system in Europe, would impact their bottom line and future business.
On Sept. 29, Cole hosted a small meeting with Theo de Groot, director of MPS, and a few other growers, including Henry Huntington of Pleasant View Gardens, Noah Schwartz of Matterhorn Nursery and Brian Krug, the incoming New Hampshire State Greenhouse Extension Specialist.
"The purpose was to stay proactive as growers and find out the meat and potatoes of what's really going on with this certification trend that we're all talking about," Cole said. "Is this the beginning of a big trend? If so, we the growers can sit back and watch it happen or get involved rather than have it dictated to us."
Groot presented a full explanation of the MPS System, the major certification system used by much more than half of the growers in the country. Based in Holland, MPS is an international certification organization that owns and develops certificates for horticultural producers. Growers are ranked based on environmental and social practices, with the goal of assuring the public and buyers that certified growers are using "best practices," which includes sustainable issues.
Growers created MPS in Europe to take charge of their environmental responsibilities before the government dictated more regulation, an action they hoped would show the public that growers are good stewards of the environment.
The big question is whether U.S. buyers will start requiring growers to use certification systems in the future, Cole said. It's all speculation for now, but it's best for growers to be proactive and have their voices heard in case it does happen, he added.
And unlike previous years, it seems that there is now a mounting excitement over the possibility of a viable U.S. certification system.
"Two years ago, it was just another piece of work on our part, another process to go through," he said. "All of a sudden, there's an interest. Not just do people care, but does this somehow relate to dollars? Can I make money off this?"
Some buyers are already asking growers to be certified with Veriflora or other companies. The meeting was a chance for growers to become informed and learn what options exist.
D.S. Cole Growers will be participating in an MPS audit to see where it stacks up in global certification programs. The group will be reporting its findings to OFA, which will print an article on the topic in an upcoming OFA bulletin.
The group hopes to have this type of information meeting with Veriflora and other organizations certifying growers for sustainability in the near future.