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All Posts By

Hayley Griffiths

Growing Potatoes

Willow Produce Potato CropPlanting Seed Potatoes

The decision to where and when to grow our potatoes is made in alignment with available appropriate soil and time of year for our climate. Potatoes are planted from seed potatoes. Seed potatoes can be a confusing term, as they are not a ‘seed’ as such. A seed potato is a potato that has begun the process of shooting.

To reproduce healthy potato plants you need to replant part or whole of the shooting seed. When planting seed we need to ensure the health of the crop from the start. It is important that healthy seed is used to prevent the spread of unwanted diseases in the crop. Sourcing and planting certified seed can minimise the possibility of the tubers becoming infected with a disease that has come from the seed. When growing for a customer we use certified seed from our list of approved suppliers.

Planting happens by way of a tractor towing a planter. The seeds are planted in rows that form the potato beds. Along the growing process, these beds are banked to ensure the banks remain stable to support & provide cover to the growing tubers.

Growing Potatoes

The growing time of potatoes is a lot shorter than that of onions. It is approximately 12-14 weeks from sowing to plant maturity.

During the growth of the crop, we send produce samples to an accredited specialised testing laboratory where Plant Tissue Analysis testing is conducted to determine the current nutrient status of the produce. This testing gives us accurate information about the nutrient status of the produce at a given time and gives us the ability to make more informed decisions towards guiding the plant to optimal health.

Harvesting Potatoes

Once harvest comes along the individual plants show signs of being mature when the tops begin to wither. We come through with the harvester, which digs deep under the potatoes that are in the soil. The potatoes are lifted out the ground and over the conveyer belt, where the excess soil falls back to the ground and the potatoes are gently guided into a produce bin. Another tractor is towing the trailer that carries the produce bins. The driver of the trailer needs to drive at the same speed to that of the driver of harvest machine. Once the produce bins are filled, the tractor operator takes them back to the shed where they are immediately loaded on a truck and transported to the washing/packaging shed. As potatoes have a relatively short life span, this is a very quick process from paddock to packaging.

We currently produce over 1000 tonne of potatoes for Australian markets annually.

Quality Management

We trace our produce from when it is a seed to where it is to be transported. This forms part of our quality management. We are quality assured with Freshcare. To achieve our certification we are audited by an independent body annually, where we need to meet the requirements of the Freshcare Codes.

Freshcare is an industry owned and not-for-profit on-farm assurance program. It was established and is maintained to service the Australian fresh produce industry. Freshcare is currently the largest Australian on–farm assurance program for fresh produce that provides on-farm food safety & quality and environmental certification services to over 5000 members nationally. The Freshcare Codes outline the practices required on farm to provide an assurance that the fresh produce is safe to eat, has been prepared to customer specifications and legislative requirements; and has been grown with care for the environment.

Growing Onions – The Art & Science

Soil Preparation

We first prepare the soil, keeping the top soil protected from erosion and we plant a break crop that puts nutrients into the soil, preparing it so it is ready to have tiny onion seeds sown to it.

Willow Produce OnionsPlanting Onion Seeds

We plant using machinery. A tractor pulls a planter and the planter is programmed as to the row spacing & planting depths. Once the seeds are planted, and the seeds are so tiny that we plant over 4 million seeds for our annual crop! the more in depth process begins.

Monitoring Growth

The next 9 months are my definition of my hubby’s pregnancy. He ever so intently watches his babies grow from right when they germinate, checking on them numerous times day and night, every day of their life. He gets up to them in the middle of the night, on a bad night it may be 2 or 3 times. They grow over the 7 months and each day they are monitored for health and illness, pest infestation, nutrient deficiency, root disease and water sufficiency.

Each and every day numerous decisions are made to aim to guide the plants to optimum health in what conditions nature provides. These daily decisions have implications from numerous angles, and some are beyond our control, from environmental, financial, efficiency options, yield potential, & sustainability as examples. The path to guiding the plants to optimum health during their growing stages requires vast reserves of patience, flexibility, communication, understanding and love. Pretty much similar to parenting really!

Our decisions are drawn from our own knowledge base, learning that has been passed down the generations, agronomist advice, weather forecasts, moisture probe meters, inputs availability & costs, historical data, SAP and soil testing, and at times you just have to tap into the ‘gut’ instinct for potential solutions to certain problems!

Sampling and Testing

During the growth of the crop, we send produce samples to an accredited specialised testing laboratory where Plant Tissue Analysis testing is conducted to determine the current nutrient status of the produce. Some of the nutrients we have tested for include Nitrate, Ammonium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Zinc, Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Sodium, Chloride. Plant Tissue Testing on our crops gives us accurate information about the nutrient status of the produce, where we can base decisions about the direction of optimal plant health with a more strategic approach.

Harvesting Onions

Once harvest comes along the individual plants show signs of being ready when their leaves begin to fall. We slash the tops of the onions and our harvester comes through gently lifting the onions out the ground. Sounds easy, yet there are so many things to be mindful of to prevent damage to individual onions, the safety of everyone during harvest and to efficiently get the produce out the ground and into storage ready for drying.

Storage, Grading and Packaging

The onions are then stored and graded and packaged for sale. We distribute our onions to local markets and to interstate wholesalers. Our onions end up in various supermarkets, green grocers and produce markets around the country. We currently produce over 1000 tonne of onions for supply to Australian Markets annually.

We trace our produce from when it is a seed to where it is stored once harvested and to when it is packaged and where it is to be transported. It is an in depth process that assists us in quality management. We are quality assured with Freshcare. To achieve our certification we are audited by an independent body annually, where we need to meet the requirements of the Freshcare Codes.

FreshcareFreshcare is an industry owned and not-for-profit on-farm assurance program. It was established and is maintained to service the Australian fresh produce industry. Freshcare is currently the largest Australian on–farm assurance program for fresh produce that provides on-farm food safety & quality and environmental certification services to over 5000 members nationally. The Freshcare Codes outline the practices required on farm to provide an assurance that the fresh produce is safe to eat, has been prepared to customer specifications and legislative requirements; and has been grown with care for the environment.