Q: What is Protected Harvest?
A: Protected Harvest is a non-profit organization that certifies farms that meet measurable and verifiable environmental standards for sustainable production. It is an organization that makes credible claims and receives input, support and approval from all stakeholder groups. The Board of Directors is made up of distinguished environmental leaders that work cooperatively with the scientific community and grower groups to enact positive change within the agricultural industry.
Protected Harvest works with farmers to help them improve soil, water and air quality, preserve habitat, and lower environmental impacts by reducing the need for chemical inputs. The sustainable agricultural practices that Protected Harvest promotes are necessary for farmers to pursue sustainability and produce high quality, affordable food products for consumers to buy.
Q: Is Protected Harvest certification the same as organic certification?
A: Organic practices are recognized worldwide and operate within the scope of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic products are certified under provisions of the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 and the National Organic Program final rule. In contrast, Protected Harvest is an industry-regulated program, instead of USDA regulated, that undergoes reviews by scientists and environmentalists. Organic agriculture and Protected Harvest share common goals about reducing environmental impacts to make a more sustainable agricultural industry.
While the national organic standards are universal and focus on restricting unsustainable practices, the Protected Harvest program standards are region and crop specific and instead require implementation of the best available sustainable practices. These practices form the foundation of standards that are developed in collaboration with growers and crop experts who understand the specific challenges of a particular crop. Because of this, the menu of practices can be implemented to address the specific challenges of that particular crop in that particular region.
Protected Harvest certification is more comprehensive than that of the USDA National Organic Program. Issues such as soil, water and air quality are more directly addressed in the Protected Harvest program. Likewise, Protected Harvest evaluates a grower’s educational outreach and field monitoring practices. Additionally, the Protected Harvest program promotes the proactive use of integrated crop management practices that diminish negative environmental impacts.
Q: What are some of the environmental practices used on certified farms?
A: Protected Harvest’s sustainable production practices reflect the particular growing requirements and environmental considerations of each crop and region. Proactive, ecologically sound practices are promoted that improve soil, air and water quality, and prevent growers from encountering problems in the future. For example, scientific studies have shown that cover crops help conserve water, prevent erosion, build nutrients in the soil, and can provide a healthy habitat for good organisms including ladybugs, honeybees and lacewings. In addition to promoting proactive sustainable practices, the Protected Harvest program limits the amount of environmental impact units that growers can accumulate through the use of chemicals. The integrity of these practices and claims of sustainability is maintained throughout the chain of custody as the crop moves from the field to the retail shelf.
By providing a list of management practices known to be effective in the region for a specific crop, the Protected Harvest standards educate growers on practical sustainable agriculture methods. This list of practices acts as a “road map” to sustainability.
The Protected Harvest program is also progressive, in that it can evolve from year to year to take advantage of new practices or technologies, emerging environmental issues, or the producers’ increasing skill at implementing the current practices. The comprehensive standards and progressive model means that producers can always find new areas in which to pursue sustainability on their farms.
Q: Does the Protected Harvest replace organic?
A: Protected Harvest is a different choice in the marketplace. Internationally, the organic label will always represent the efforts of a grassroots industry to distinguish products grown under a standard of alternative agriculture. Protected by the USDA, this credible label is a guarantee of a high level of commitment to the environment and the consumers.
The Protected Harvest program is a crop and region specific effort that connects research to growers. This program is intended to educate growers about the practices that have a positive impact on the land. This effort is communicated to consumers through the Protected Harvest certification label.
Q: What are some of the crops that Protected Harvest certifies?
A: Potatoes from Wisconsin were the first Protected Harvest certified crop to hit the shelves. Potatoes that pass certification are collectively marketed by Wisconsin farmers under the “Healthy Grown” brand. In California, Protected Harvest worked with the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission to develop the Lodi Rules program, which is growing rapidly. California stone fruit including nectarines, peaches, and plums are certified by Protected Harvest under the Zeal brand, and growers expect that within a year or two nearly one third of the nation’s stone fruit supply will be enrolled in the Protected Harvest program. Currently, Protected Harvest certification of mushrooms includes Modern Mushrooms facilities in California and Pennsylvania. Citrus and Mandarins are in their first year of certification. Additional programs are in various levels of completion including tomatoes and dairy production. Protected Harvest is pleased with its success thus far, and its model of sustainability is spreading as more and more crop groups are approaching the organization with an interest in developing additional sustainable crop programs.
Q: How does the Protected Harvest program benefit the public?
A: The Protected Harvest label assures consumers that certified products were developed with a limited amount of pesticides through environmentally-friendly and sustainable agricultural practices. This means that the farmers worked with Protected Harvest to improve soil, water, and air quality and that the crop was properly planted, harvested, stored, packed, loaded, and transported to retail stores. By purchasing Protected Harvest certified products, consumers are investing in a system that is better for the Earth and will help ensure quality crops for generations to come.
Q: What is the incentive for farmers to participate?
A: The Protected Harvest program provides an opportunity for growers to improve soil, water and air quality, reduce pesticide use, and preserve natural habitat, while producing high quality crops. Protected Harvest provides growers with information about the latest scientific research and technology developments, and provides guidance in how to implement the knowledge and practices in their fields. The proactive practices promoted in the Protected Harvest program also help prevent problems from arising on the farm in the future.
Growers have a general incentive to pursue sustainable operations. Protecting the land today will ensure that it can continue to be farmed successfully in future generations. And the Protected Harvest certification adds value to a crop because it provides validation that growers have implemented sustainable agriculture practices and are working to protect and improve the environment.
Q: Why should retailers devote shelf space to Protected Harvest produce?
A: More and more, consumers are paying attention to where and how the food they eat is grown or raised. This is part of an overall trend toward environmental consciousness in today’s society. Hybrid cars, energy efficiency, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are just some of these concepts now infusing everyday dialogue. Sustainably produced crops are an integral part of this movement. Retailers draw profits when they provide customers with the products they desire. A recent survey of 500 supermarket customers showed that 80 to 92 percent of respondents were likely to purchase Protected Harvest certified products, and more than 90 percent were willing to pay a premium for the products.
Q: What does the Protected Harvest label indicate?
A: At the grocery store, the Protected Harvest label tells the consumer that the produce has undergone careful review and credible certification as a sustainably produced crop. The certification is given by an independent third party that reviews and verifies the sustainable practices that growers are using. The chain of custody audit protects the integrity of the certification claim. The Protected Harvest label tells customers they are investing in a system that is better for the Earth, and that adds value to the product. Consumers want to support companies that protect the environment—but the products need to be convenient, easy to identify and affordable. Produce labeled as Protected Harvest certified fits this mold.
Q: Who decides what the Protected Harvest standards are?
A: Farmers, processors and those who work on the ground with a crop commodity propose standards for sustainable production that are unique to the specific crop and region. The standards are peer-reviewed by the scientific community and then must be approved by the distinguished environmentalists on the Protected Harvest board. This collaborative process ensures that all stakeholder groups have ownership of the standards, and that they are good, credible standards based on the best practices. After the crop certification program is launched, an evaluation is conducted and the program may be modified to make adjustments based upon experience. New components to the standards may be phased in over time to strengthen the program.