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Q&A with Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Tom Karst, The Packer

The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Oct. 16 with Tim York, chief executive officer of Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Calif., and key leader in the work on the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops.

1:00 p.m. Tom Karst: How do you assess the progress of work toward the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops over the past couple of years?

1:01 p.m. Tim York: You come back to why we are doing this in the first place. The reason we got together in the first place, we saw the mistakes that were made in food safety. What the growers were doing in some cases was insufficient in terms of food safety. We as buyers, from a brand protection standpoint as well as from a marketing position, said we need to develop a food safety program. We each had third-party auditing companies or food safety experts come to us and say, Markon, I’ve got the answer for food safety and here is how you can be better than Sysco. Somebody said that to Sysco, somebody said that to Safeway, Kroger and right on down the line. So we wound up with multiple food safety systems, multiple buyer expectations, and multiple third-party auditors that have a big economic stake in the status quo. Now you see work going on with GAP harmonization and trying to put that genie back in the bottle. We have had a lot of meetings and a lot of time spent trying to fix that.

1:04 p.m. Karst: Are you satisfied with how the inclusive model is working?

1:05 p.m. York: The model is collaborative. We can agree on some things, but we are not going to agree on everything, but let’s look for common ground. We took the approach we have to have the environmental groups involved early on. That’s that the more difficult road to travel. It is slower and more onerous but I think it is the only right way to make it happen. From the genesis of this, those principles still resonate with us, collaborative approach, precompetitive, and avoid the duplications.

1:07 p.m. Karst: Some growers have raised concerns about sustainability metrics being used against them. Do you sometimes feel that no good deed goes unpunished?

1:08 p.m. York: Honestly, it is like trying to roll a rock uphill. If growers understood what we are trying to do, they would be having a hug fest with us. This is not Markon and a few buyers saying, “Here is this sustainability standard” and we are going to cram it down their throats. Growers are here helping us determine it. All we are saying is let’s get a common yardstick, let’s define how we measure sustainability. It won’t preclude a buyer from taking those measurements and saying what is most important to them, but at least we’re measuring the same way.

1:09 p.m. Karst: What is the latest with the pilot projects to help develop metrics for the stewardship index?

1:11 p.m. York: We have over 100 pilots for 19 crops in 13 states. This is about development of metrics. It is really about the idea of whether we can collect this information in a cost-effective manner and if it can lead to continuous improvement. Because if you don’t have that, you don’t have a good business case of why we should be doing this in the first place. The whole idea is to be able measure inputs and reduce them.