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John Bailey, executive director of Top 10 Produce LLC in Salinas, CA, told The Produce News that on June 1, the company launched an initiative to help family and small growers maximize the effectiveness of traceback technology in an efficient and low-cost way.

"Come January 1, 2010, as GS1 DataBar 2010 Sunrise, an item-specific traceability initiative goes into effect, many small farmers are going to find themselves scurrying to adopt the system," said Mr. Bailey. "These producers will likely end up paying a lot of money to register their brands with GS1 because they will feel they have no alternative."

The "Top 10 Produce" brand provides a low-cost, simple and flexible item- level produce traceability solution. Mr. Bailey uses the Salinas Valley, an area rich with fresh produce growers, as an example of how the program works. "Let's say there are 300 growers in the Salinas area," he explained. "Of that number, 200 are large companies that have already implemented extremely high technology in their traceability initiatives. These companies will be prepared for retailer demands as GS1 goes into effect. But the other 100 are small producers who have not had the resources, time or perhaps even the knowledge to implement a traceability program."

The cost of obtaining a manufacturer's databar number can range from $750 into the thousands of dollars for the first year, with an annual renewal fee each year thereafter, depending on the company's annual sales.

Top 10 Produce is a branded system in which an unlimited number of producers can participate at a charter-grower cost of $180 per year. Mr. Bailey said that if the remaining 100 small growers in Salinas participate in the program, the company would not be able to sustain itself. But by opening it up to small growers nationally, it can survive and at the same time offer far-reaching benefits to growers. Besides maximizing the effectiveness of small growers' traceback capabilities, it will ensure and enhance their access to retail chains.

Mr. Bailey added that the pressure on small producers to step up their traceability programs will increase as 2010 approaches.

"Some major retailers are already requiring GS1 DataBar traceability from their suppliers," said Mr. Bailey. "And the GS1 DataBar 2010 Sunrise scanner will be used by increasingly more retailers as the time draws nearer. The scanner reads both UPC codes and the 14-digit GS1 number that provides traceability information."

At the same time as GS1 compliance encroaches, the Food Safety Act of 2009 is drawing more attention. Mr. Bailey said that retailers are responding strongly to the government's call for a near-term solution.

The Top 10 Produce program offers other long-term benefits to its participants by opening doors for smaller growers by pooling produce from a large number of them.

"This will provide the volume that larger retail chains require," said Mr. Bailey. "But most important is that participation with Top 10 will create a reason for small growers to work together. Every item of produce will be labeled with the GS1 DataBar and GS1 barcode, and consumers will be able to communicate directly with the producer by entering the numbers into a computer or other communication systems."

The list of long-term benefits, most of which will be launched by Top 10 Produce in January 2010, is even more extensive. Mr. Bailey said that they will include interaction between consumers and retailers and will offer detailed information about the farm and its products.

The $180 annual charter membership fee is good only for 2009, and Mr. Bailey said that charter members are guaranteed that their annual fee will not increase as long as they continue to participate in the program. "In 2010, the fee will increase to $280," said Mr. Bailey. "Our initial fee offer is to gather a great number of members in 2009 so we can kick-start the project off to a great success from the start."