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Good Agricultural Practices

The term Good Agricultural Practices can refer to any collection of specific methods, which when applied to agriculture, produce results that are in harmony with the values of the proponents of those practices. There are numerous competing definitions of what methods constitute "Good Agricultural Practices", so whether a practice can be considered "good" will depend on the standards you are applying.

The remainder of this article describes one particular definition of "Good Agricultural Practices" as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Table of contents

Desciption of the UN FAO GAPs:

Good Agricultural Practices (or GAPs) are a collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products, while taking into account economical, social and environmental sustainability.

Though the term is not new, it has really begun to get wide attention at the end of the 1990s.

GAPs may be applied to a wide range of farming systems[?] and at different scales. They are applied through sustainable agricultural methods, such as integrated pest management, integrated fertilizer management[?] and conservation agriculture. They rely on four principles:

The concept of GAPs has changed in recent years because of a rapidly changing agriculture, globalization of world trade, food crisis (mad cow disease), nitrate pollution of water, appearance of pesticide resistance, soil erosion...

GAPs applications are being developed by governments, NGOs and private sector to meet farmers and transformers needs and specific requirements. However, many think these applications are only rarely made in a holistic or coordinated way.

They provide the opportunity to assess and decide on which farming practices[?] to follow at each step in the production process. For each agricultural production system, they aim at allowing a comprehensive management strategy, providing for the capability for tactical adjustments in response to changes. The implementation of such a management strategy requires knowing, understanding, planning, measuring, monitoring, and record-keeping at each step of the production process. Adoption of GAPs may result in higher production, transformation and marketing costs, hence finally higher costs for the consumer.

GAPs require maintaining a common database on integrated production techniques for each of the major agro-ecological area (see ecoregion), thus to collect, analyze and disseminate information of good practices in relevant geographical contexts.

Good Agricultural Practices related to soil

  • Reducing erosion by wind and water through hedging and ditching
  • Application of fertilizers at appropriate moments and in adequate doses (i.e., when the plant needs the fertilizer), to avoid run-off (see nitrogen balance method[?]).
  • Maintaining or restoring soil organic content, by manure application, use of grazing[?], crop rotation
  • Reduce soil compaction issues (by avoiding using heavy mechanical devices)
  • Maintain soil structure, by limiting heavy tillage practices

Good Agricultural Practices related to water

  • Practice schedule irrigation, with monitoring of plant needs, and soil water reserve status to avoid water loss by drainage
  • Prevent soil salinization by limiting water input to needs, and recycling water whenever possible
  • Avoid crops with high water requirements in a low availability region
  • Avoid drainage and fertilizer run-off
  • Maintain permanent soil covering, in particular in winter to avoid nitrogen run-of
  • Manage carefully water table, by limiting heavy output of water
  • Restore or maintain wetlands (see marshlands)
  • Provide good water points for livestock

GAPs related to animal production, health and welfare

  • Respect of animal well-being (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress)
  • Avoid non-therapeutic mutilations, surgical or invasive procedures, such as tail docking and debeaking;
  • Avoid negative impacts on landscape, environment and life: contamination of land for grazing, food, water and air
  • Check stocks and flows, maintain structure of systems
  • Prevent chemical and medical residues from entering the food chain
  • Minimize non-therapeutic use of antibiotics or hormones
  • Avoid feeding animals with animal wastes or animal matter (reducing the risk of alien viral or transgenic genes, or prions such as mad cow disease),
  • Minimize transport of live animals (by foot, rail or road) (reducing the risk of epidemics, e.g., foot and mouth disease)
  • Prevent waste run-off (e.g. nitrate contamination of water tables from pigs), nutrient loss and greenhouse gas emissions (methane from cows)
  • Prefer safety measures standards in manipulation of equipment
  • Apply traceability processes on the whole production chain (breeding, feed, medical treatment...) for consumer security and feedback possibility in case of a food crisis (e.g., dioxin).

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