March 2021 Specialty Crops Program Newsletter

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USDA AMS Specialty Crops Program Newsletter - March 2021

A Message to Our Industry Partners

USDA Domestic Hemp Production Program Issues Final Rule

Sonia Jimenez, Deputy Administrator, Specialty Crops Programs


I am thrilled to announce the USDA and  AMS Specialty Crops Program (SCP) has published the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program final rule. The final rule provides regulations for the production of hemp in the United States and incorporates modifications based on public comments and lessons learned during the 2020 growing season.

William Richmond, Branch Chief, U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program says, “We hope the publication of the final rule provides regulatory certainty for the emerging hemp industry. We worked hard to incorporate all the feedback received during two open comment periods prior to the issuing the final rule. We believe the publication of the final rule is an important step in providing stability and consistency to hemp growers in order to reduce crop loss. We remain committed to working with industry to fully understand the needs of this emerging crop.” More information about the provisions of the final rule is available on AMS’s Hemp Production webpage.

The final rule goes into effect on March 22, 2021. States and Tribes wishing to manage hemp programs in their jurisdictions must have a plan approved under the new final rule. States and Tribes have until December 31, 2021, to transition from operating under the previous 2014 Farm Bill provisions to the new final rule provisions. The U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program is happy to offer an informal review of a State or Tribal plan prior to formal submission. Contact the program at for more information.

Learn  More


Help USDA & the Specialty Crops Supply Chain Assess Buyer Requirements for Produce Safety Standards

MSU Wording

Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is conducting a survey of growers, buyers, and others in the specialty crops supply chain to assess buyer requirements for produce safety standards in the United States. MSU will use the survey results to inform efforts to build buyer acceptance of Harmonized GAP and group certification programs so that growers can, in turn, build markets. USDA AMS is partnering with MSU so that we can both increase buyer acceptance of USDA GAP audits and improve our customers’ experience with our audit programs.  

The survey is open until April 1, 2021.  Please consider helping the USDA and the entire specialty crops supply chain by completing the survey!  

Take the Survey!

USDA Asks for Feedback on Plans to Implement COVID-19 Stimulus Measures

Image with Webinar Information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is seeking feedback through public comments and listening sessions regarding the possible development of new grants and a new food purchase program.  The COVID Stimulus Package, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, authorized no less than $1.5B for grants and loans to small or midsized food processors or distributors, seafood processing facilities and processing vessels, farmers markets, producers, or other organizations to respond to coronavirus, including for measures to protect workers against COVID–19. The funding also provides for the purchase and distribution of food and agricultural products, including seafood, fresh produce, dairy and meat products to individuals in need.

Learn More About Listening Sessions & How to Give Feedback!

USDA Updates Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and GAP Plus+ Audit Checklists

Donna Burke Fonda

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is updating the USDA Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and GAP Plus+ audit checklists. These updates become effective May 1, 2021 and will allow AMS’s GAP audit services to remain applicable and relevant for its specialty crops industry customers.  Specialty Crops Inspections Division hosted a webinar Monday, March 8th to discuss the revisions to the checklists; the recording link is available here.

Specialty crop buyers often require rigorous third-party food safety certifications from produce growers to gain market access. AMS offers several different types of voluntary GAP audits to suppliers throughout the production and supply chain that focus on best agricultural practices to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of food safety hazards. Customers who request this voluntary audit service pay fees that cover audit and administration costs, including auditor travel time and expenses.

The USDA Harmonized GAP audit checklist will be updated to align with the Produce GAPs Harmonized Combined Standard. Updates will include:

  • New requirements related to sanitation, hazard analysis and packing materials
  • Incorporating Tomato Audit Protocol metrics into the USDA Harmonized GAP standard

The USDA Harmonized GAP Plus+ audit checklist changes are required to maintain alignment with updates to USDA’s technical equivalence acknowledgment from the Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI), which allows GAP Plus+ audits to meet U.S. and international food safety requirements. Key updates include:

  • Requirements for a cleaning and sanitation program for food contact surfaces
  • Environmental monitoring programs for microbiological hazards requiring a control identified in the hazard analysis of the packinghouse
  • Actions related to the use and shelf life of materials

For more information on the updates to the checklists or the webinar, contact Jennifer Dougherty, AMS Audit Services Branch at  .

USDA Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (FVIAC) to Meet April 6, 2021

Darrell Hughes, Chief of Staff, Specialty Crops Program

USDA has scheduled a virtual meeting of the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (FVIAC) to be held April 6, 2021.  The meeting is being convened to examine the full spectrum of fruit and vegetable industry issues and provide recommendations and ideas to the Secretary of Agriculture on how USDA can tailor programs and services to better meet the needs of the U.S. produce industry.  Register in advance for this webinar using the link below:

The FVIAC will meet on Tuesday, April 06, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET). The FVIAC will hear public comments during the webinar; the deadline to submit written comments and/or sign up for oral comments is 11:59 p.m. ET, March 16, 2021. Submit requests to

Agenda items may include, but are not limited to, welcome and introductions, administrative matters, consideration of topics for potential working group discussion and proposal, and presentations by subject matter experts as requested by the Committee. Please check the FVIAC website for a final agenda on Monday, April 05, 2021, via