Missouri Grower Benefits from working with MU Extension staff

Missouri Grower Benefits from working with MU Extension staff

Matthew Brubaker grew up on a farm in Kentucky and started farming on his own when he got married in 1984. He moved to Rich Hill, Missouri in 1992 and was one of the first Amish farmers to move to Rich Hill.

Matthew has been working with the University of Missouri Extension for many years to learn more about pesticide application safety and eventually to learn more about produce safety. In fact, Matthew participated in one of the first produce safety trainings organized by the University of Missouri Extension, in 2007.

Mr. Brubaker currently sells his produce to Dutch Country Produce, Vernon County Produce, and Bates County Produce who are all produce wholesalers. Dutch Country Foods sells produce to Balls Foods, which supplies to grocery stores in the Kansas City metro area and requires USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification.

drip irrigation with plastic in a fieldSince these buyers all require a high level of safety, they must utilize key produce safety measures to keep the cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and watermelon they sell safe. They only sell fresh, whole produce, with no value-added products at this time.

Matthew said that following produce safety practices taught by North Central Region (NCR) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) partners including the University of Missouri Extension and the Missouri Department of Agriculture has benefitted him greatly as he can now sell produce to more markets. He has learned various important produce safety practices over the years, including the following practices related to the importance of water quality:

  • Since the intake suction line going to the pump that he uses for irrigating produce is located in the middle of the pond, he also takes the water sample there when possible
  • Utilizing drip irrigation under plastic, which reduces the risk of contamination from agricultural water.

Matthew has observed that due to the enactment of the FSMA Produce Safety Rule (PSR), buyer requirements have become more strict. For example, when they are taking the produce they have raised to warehouses, the drivers are now more stringent in their produce safety requirements.

He has attended FSMA Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) training on two different occasions, as he wanted a refresher training after a few years. Attending the FSMA PSA training, particularly the second time, helped him to better understand what the GAPS auditors were requiring related to produce safety. 

A major challenge that Mr. Brubaker has experienced with ensuring the quality of the water he uses for produce irrigation is when heavy rains fall, the feces standing in their animal pens may runoff into the pond that he uses for irrigation.  In 2019, Matthew started to utilize the free water testing services that were made available by MU Extension and Kansas State University Extension through generous USDA Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) grants that KSU/MU received in both 2016 and 2019, which included free water testing.  In 2020, Mr. Brubaker's water test results were showing higher levels of generic E. coli and they were in jeopardy of losing their GAP certified status that was required to sell to their produce buyers, so they worked closely with Ramon Arancibia, regional Horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension and other MU Extension personnel to test their water more often and to improve the safety of their irrigation water. For example, they built a large berm around the pond to deter animal waste from running off into and contaminating the irrigation pond. To date, these measures have kept the microbial presence in the pond at a safe level.  Mr. Brubaker is continuing to utilize the free water testing provided through the FSOP grant, and is also participating in other activities of the 2019 FSOP grant.

When Matthew has questions about produce safety, he often studies the FSMA PSA training manual that he received at the training. The FSMA PSA trainings that he has taken have not only helped him with better understanding and implementing the FSMA PSR, but also helps him to understand better what the GAPs auditors are requiring. In addition to meeting marketplace and regulatory requirements, Matthew wants to sell safe produce because it is the right thing to do.

Matthew has worked for many years with Pat Miller, regional Agronomy specialist with MU Extension, and more recently with Ramon Arancibia, regional Horticulture specialist with MU Extension.  Ramon said “Matthew Brubaker is a great produce grower! He has worked very hard to improve the safety of his produce and keep up with the latest in produce safety training and resources that the University of Missouri Extension has to offer.”