Produce growers supplying a southwest Idaho packing shed needed help with audits. Shed employee Brandi Fluit provided it.
“And then, other farmers not part of that grower group started approaching me for help,” she said. “And they approached me the next year.”
Fluit started her own audit venture, but soon faced being overwhelmed by strong demand. She got help from her sister, Amberly “Amber” Eisenbarth, who joined her in forming Cropland Audits Inc. in early 2018.
Strong early success at the Weiser-based company reflects farmers’ desire to spend as much time as possible in the field in addition to the 2019-21 wave of on-farm inspections required under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule.
“We take the paperwork off their hands so they can focus on what’s important to them: farming,” Eisenbarth said.
Cropland Audits provides food-safety audit services to growers and packing sheds in preparation for Produce Safety Rule inspections — required on produce generally consumed raw — or at the request of a grower’s customer such as a store or other retail buyer. Fluit and Eisenbarth also work with crops not covered by the rule.
“We prepare the audits, doing the paperwork to be viewed by an auditor,” Fluit said.
PSR-covered producers in the highest revenue category were inspected in 2019, and those in the next two categories are to be inspected this year and in 2021.
The business already is diversifying.
Onions, which are a big crop in the region and are covered by the PSR, accounted for 75% to 80% of Cropland’s business in the past year, Fluit said. She and Eisenbarth in 2019 also worked with producers of mint, blueberries, sweet potatoes, peppers and squash. They are available to help producers of other crops.
Weiser onion farmer Dyke Nagasaka had Cropland help him prepare for a PSR inspection in 2019.
“I am just going to use them like an accountant and have them come every year,” he said. “If I had to do it myself, I would be fumbling. This reduces the time I would have to spend on it.”
Fluit and Eisenbarth in 2019 provided Nagasaka with reporting and compliance assistance, at one point even working in a storage shed to start fine-tuning a practice so he could stay in the field during a freeze-impacted harvest.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture, authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct produce-safety audits, has been promoting the free, on-farm readiness reviews it provides ahead of inspections.
“We can participate in those with the customer,” said Fluit, who has completed training in the PSR, Good Agricultural Practices auditing and as a Preventive Control Qualified Individual. “And if we have noticed issues in other inspections or audits, we can bring that up.”
Eisenbarth said some producers employ a food-safety specialist, “but a downfall is that a lot of them wear multiple hats.”
Cropland Audits so far has worked with farms from 30 to 2,000 acres. The business, which now has relatively little competition, mainly has worked from Nyssa, Ore., east to Glenns Ferry, Idaho.
“We have advertised a bit in Washington, and we are hoping to spread to the West Coast,” Fluit said. “Time will tell.”
Fluit, 33, and Eisenbarth, 26, continue to work at a packing shed and hardware store, respectively. They grew up on a farm near Lynden, Wash. Their father, Doug Fluit, about eight years ago moved to the Weiser area to farm.
Cropland hired an employee to start this spring.
“We don’t see us going away,” Eisenbarth said. “We see revenue growing.”