Good Fruit Grower

October 2013

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Water regulations worry growers About a hundred growers, irrigation district representatives, and government officials attended an FDA listening session in Yakima, Washington. f the many new requirements that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is proposing as it implements the Food Safety Modernization Act, those relating to water are of particular concern to orchardists in the Pacific Northwest. The regulations relate to both the source and the use of water. Of the various water sources, the FDA considers a public water system to be the safest, followed by wells. Surface water, from lakes and rivers, is considered the least safe because of the potential for contamination from runoff and the inability of farmers to protect their water from contamination upstream. If water is applied through a drip system to the ground so it doesn't contact the edible part of the crop, or if the food will be cooked before being eaten, the FDA has few concerns. But if a significant quantity of runoff is likely to drain into the water source, and the water contacts the by Geraldine Warner crop, then the water will need to be tested on farm at least every seven days during the growing season. FDA regulations target surface water applied directly to the crop. Many apple growers in arid eastern Washington use surface water both for irrigation and for cooling fruit on the trees during summer heat. Water is also applied to cherries after harvest to cool them. During an FDA listening session in Yakima, Washington, orchardist Frank Lyall accused the FDA of implying that because Washington growers apply water to their apples for evaporative cooling, those apples are less safe than fruit grown in wetter regions of the country where farmers don't apply water to their crops. "We're not making that assertion," responded Mike Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. "We're trying to figure out how to implement the law." Outbreaks Dr. Samir Assar, director of the FDA's produce safety staff, said that, when developing the rules, the agency looked at the commodities that have been associated with outbreaks of illness. It did not find any involving fresh deciduous tree fruits, but did find outbreaks traced to papaya and mangoes. "The history of outbreaks is not a good assessment of risk of future outbreaks," he stressed. "Every year or so, new commodities pop up." Water played a key role in many outbreaks, but was never the sole factor, he added. The key was where it came into contact with crops. That's why the agency decided to focus its rules on practices involving direct application of water that could be contaminated. "The rule is risk-based and science-based," he said. Dr. Erick Snellman, FDA policy analyst, explained that the concern is that bacteria can bind to sediment that can be washed into rivers and lakes. Rather than require testing for a number of different pathogens, the FDA is focusing on generic Escherichia coli as an indicator of the likelihood of fecal contamination. It's a trigger for growers to assess their water system. The regulations state that if levels of generic E. coli in a single sample exceed 235 coliform-forming units per 100 milliliters of water or if a five-sample rolling mean exceeds 126 cfu, that water source can no longer be used. Westbridge post-harvest fruit, nut and vine programs are A member of the audience asked how much runoff the designed to improve nutrient uptake, reduce alternate bearing, agency considered "significant" and pointed out that up to August this year, the Yakima area had received only and increase next season's fruit and nut set. three inches of rainfall. Snellman acknowledged that without rain there is no runoff, but said terms like "significant" will be defined in ORGANIC guidance documents that will be issued along with the ORGANIC ® ® final rule. There were also questions about how "growing seaContains Auxiliary Soil and Plant Substances son" is defined. Officials said it might mean the period when the crop is on the tree, but that also probably will be in the guidance documents. • Biopesticides & spray adjuvants • Liquid N-P-K fertilizers Another audience member pointed out that almost all of central Washington's surface water comes from runoff • Soil & plant amendments • Micronutrient fertilizers from snowmelt, so a farmer would be testing the water • Insect repellant • Calcium fertilizers all the time. Irrigation district representatives also warned that Always use Organic TRIGGRR® and Organic BioLink® products as part of a complete fertility program. growers using water from return flows would likely have challenges meeting the proposed water quality standard. It would be a financial burden for growers test the water all season long, and not helpful if the water's not going to Contact Westbridge today to learn more: meet the standard anyway. If they have to stop using the ® (800) 876-2767 • water, their crops will be damaged. Optimize Fruit Production 10 OCTOBER 2013 Good Fruit Grower

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