Now that most of our seed has made its way below the soil, it is time once again to bring water issues to the forefront of our minds. The clean, readily available water in the central sands region of our state is key to the production of the valuable potato crop each and every year. The quality of the water that is applied to our potatoes and other vegetables has always been minded with great care not only for us here at Okray Family Farms, but for all growers in the central Wisconsin area as well. Keeping track of trace elements that might be found in our irrigation water as well as bacteria and viruses such as Coliform and Streptomyces is essential to ensuring that our customers are buying a safe product for their families.
With the implementation of annual third party food safety audits, starting with the USDA GAP audit and now including the PrimusGFS, GAP and GMP audits, the past decade has brought about a marked increase in the care and attention being paid to the quality of the water that we use in the irrigation of our crops. Every spring before any planting is done, samples are taken from each well and sent to a local third party laboratory to be tested for nitrate levels, bacterial coliform, and E. Coli. These tests are repeated before harvest to make sure that nothing has changed at our water sources and that the water being used is still of the same quality it was when we began planting. All farm employees undergo training four times per year on issues pertaining to food safety, and are trained on how to properly sample the wells without contaminating the sample.
But that’s not all that is done to make sure that our potatoes are taking in safe water all season long. Pre-season and pre-harvest risk assessment forms are filled out by trained farm employees each year as the well heads and surrounding areas are inspected for debris, weeds, signs of animal activity, and other potential sources of contamination. These records are kept for reference in upcoming years so that we may be able to detect when a problem or pattern began.
Clearly, the safety of the water that is used on our farms is something that we take very seriously, and we know that our consumers do too. Wisconsin growers may well be the most proactive water stewards of our day. We will continue to provide all of our customers with the healthy, delicious Wisconsin potatoes they have come to know and love.