Good agricultural practice (GAP) is a certification system for agriculture, specifying procedures (and attendant documentation) that must be implemented to create food for consumers or further processing that is safe and wholesome, using sustainable methods. While there are numerous competing definitions of what methods constitute good agricultural practice there are several broadly accepted schemes that producers can adhere too.
Introduction of GAP is particularly desirable when there is chronic overuse and misuse of agricultural pesticides. Governments seek to reduce the use of pesticides ("sustainability") by introducing alternative methods of pest management, while at the same time ensuring a steady production of safe and wholesome food.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) uses good agricultural practice as 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.
GAPs may be applied to a wide range of farming systems and at different scales. They are applied through sustainable agricultural methods, including economically and efficiently produce being sufficient (food security), safe (food safety), and making sure that the food is nutritious (food quality).
GAPs require maintaining a common database on integrated production techniques for each of the major agro-ecological area (see ecoregion). They collect, analyze and disseminate information of good practices in relevant geographical contexts.
The United States Department of Agriculture marketing service operates an audit/certification program to verify that farms use good agricultural practice or good handling practice. It is a voluntary program typically utilized by growers and packers to satisfy contractual requirements with retail and food service buyers. The program was implemented in 2002 after the New Jersey Department of Agriculture petitioned USDA-AMS to implement an audit-based program to verify conformance to the 1998 Food & Drug Administration publication entitled, "Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables."
The program has been updated several times since 2002, and includes additional certification programs such as commodity specific audit programs for mushrooms, tomatoes, leafy greens, and cantaloupes. In 2009, USDA-AMS participated in the GAPs Harmonization Initiative which "harmonized" 14 of the major North American GAP audit standards, which in 2011 resulted in the release and implementation of the Produce GAPs Harmonized Food Safety Standard.
Demand for agricultural crops is expected to double as the world's population reaches 9.1 billion by 2050. Increasing the quantity and quality of food in response to growing demand will require increased agricultural production. Good agricultural practices, often in combination with effective input use, are one of the best ways to increase smallholder productivity. Many agribusinesses are building sustainable supply chains to increase production and improve quality.