Growers try to prevent, prepare for harsher irrigation rules

08/20/2014 09:38:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Onion growers in the Pacific Northwest are optimistic as they wait for news regarding the revised water testing requirements from Food and Drug Administration officials.

“We were very pleased they reconsidered the proposed water rule, and now we’re just waiting to hear what the new proposal will include,” said Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce Inc., Nyssa, Ore.

After the initial frustration surrounding the proposed water testing rules, growers say FDA officials have been cooperative and helpful.

The new rules were originally scheduled to be released for review at the beginning of the summer, but the date was shifted to end of summer. Growers are still unsure when they’ll hear an update but hope it will be a positive result.

“We’ve heard from some political contacts that the onion industry should be pleased with the results, but we’re not sure exactly what that means,” Riley said.

In the meantime, growers have rallied around the research efforts of Clint Shock, director of the Oregon State University Malheur County Experiment Station.

Recent results were published that showed E. coli contamination is not a risk in furrow- or drip-irrigated bulb onions.

“There were generic E. coli on the bulbs at harvest regardless of the irrigation system or water source. They died off quickly during curing,” Shock said. These results aligned with what everyone was hoping to find, he said.

“I’m sure these results are having an impact on the revised rules,” he said.

In addition to testing irrigation water, other prospective rules were put under the microscope, so to speak.

“One of the things the FDA wanted was for onions to be stored in plastic totes instead of wooden ones, and I think that option would be exceedingly expensive for the growers so we did a little trial and it didn’t have any indication that it would be of benefit,” Shock said.

Growers are pleased with and grateful for the results.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into first doing research, and second, contacting the FDA. We’ve had a deputy director out in the fields, showing him how we operate, and so far, we’ve been really pleased that they’ve listened to us and seemed willing to find a solution that will work,” Riley said.

Shock said the results didn’t come as a surprise but that they were certainly welcome. Riley agrees.

“The research didn’t really surprise us, because it’s what we expected to find, but it’s nice to have the research to back up what we believed about our onions being safe,” he said.

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