University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Research Project:

Economic Impact of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Certification

Farmers at Practical Food Safety Workshop

About the Project

After a dramatic increase in the number of food borne illness outbreaks associated with produce, beginning in the mid-2000's, large produce buyers, especially chain supermarkets and restaurants, began requiring vendors to undergo third party audits to certify that they were following Good Agricultural Practices (or GAPs) for on-farm hygiene and sanitation.

Two forces will determine the number of Vermont produce farms seeking GAPs certification: 1) the new produce rules associated with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and 2) the number of buyers requiring certification from their vendors. Given produce buyers' concerns over liability, the consensus in the produce industry is that buyer's demand for assurance that farmers are following food safety practices will increase. As a result, the number of produce growers in Vermont seeking USDA Good Agricultural Practice (GAPs) certification has increased from five in 2009 to 22 in 2011.

A primary concern is that current GAPs certification programs were designed for large-scale farms producing just a few commodity crops for wholesale markets, and not for the smaller-scale more diversified farms that predominate in Vermont and much of the Northeast. As such, GAPs certification can be challenging for small-scale diversified farms selling to multiple markets and farms that are open to the public. Because of economies of scale, small and mid-sized farms are at a disadvantage with GAPs certification in that small farms must follow the same practices and bear the same costs as large farms, yet they have less capital and human capacity available to do so.

The purpose of this study was to help farmers, policy makers, and agricultural service providers understand the potential economic impact of GAPs certification on Vermont's produce industry.


Contact Ginger Nickerson ( for more information about the research and the project.


Food Safety Modernization Act: The exact number of Vermont farms that will be subject to the new federal rules on fresh produce will depend on whether the FDA bases their limit of $500,000 in total gross sales from all enterprises on a farm, or just the gross sales from fresh produce. If the FDA's definition of gross sales includes all farm enterprises, and not just gross sales associated with fresh produce, the number of farms, orchards and farmstands in Vermont affected by FSMA could be significant. This is because almost all of Vermont's roadside stands, which are the largest economic percentage of direct markets, sell a wide variety of ornamentals, value-added foods, meats, baked goods, and other items in addition to fresh produce. The remaining farms (that do less than $500,000 in gross sales) will be exempt under the Tester Amendment, under which they are expected to follow state and local regulations on produce safety, however, Vermont currently does not have any regulations addressing microbial contamination of produce.

Buyers' Interest in and Intentions in Terms of GAPs certification: Customers who are most likely to require GAPs certification will be chain supermarkets, and possibly schools and hospitals, and the distributors that serve these markets. While the majority of produce buyers (both non-profit and for profit) interviewed were not willing to pay a price premium for produce from GAPs certified farms, buyers that were not associated with large supermarket chains were open to and interested in the idea of Vermont creating its own GAPs certification program, similar to Rhode Island's GAPs audit program, which could be tailored to the parameters of small-scale and diversified farms.

Who is seeking GAPs certification? The farms currently seeking or considering seeking USDA GAPs certification are larger, employ more people, and sell a greater percentage of their product to supermarkets and/or wholesale markets than farms that are not considering GAPs certification. The average acreage for GAPs certified farms is 88.8 acres, and they employ an average of 19.2 seasonal workers vs. averages of 9.4 acres and 4.8 seasonal workers for non-certified farms.

See full report in the 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Report to the Vermont legislature.

Research Team

Virginia Nickerson, PhD
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
106 Highpoint Center, Suite 300
Colchester, VT 05446

Florence A. Becot
Department of Community Development and Applied Economics
University of Vermont
146 University Place
Burlington, VT 05405

David S. Conner, PhD
Department of Community Development and Applied Economics
University of Vermont
146 University Place
Burlington, VT 05405

Report Date

January 10, 2012


University of Vermont Extension

Last modified October 31 2013 11:07 AM