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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.

South Australia Tops in the Australian Onion Industry

Onions are a food staple and Australians consume approximately 11 kilograms per capita every year. A member of the Allium family, onions are Australia’s fourth largest vegetable crop accounting for 9% of total vegetable production.

Onions Australia is the peak industry body for the Australian onion industry, and the association’s most recent data suggests there are approximately 380 onion growers nationally. The Australian onion industry provides for both domestic and international markets. Two-thirds of the domestic market onions are grown in South Australia. Exporting accounted for 85 per cent of the Tasmanian market.

 

Production Statistics

The onion industry in Australia is considered ‘mature’, and neither the value nor volume of production has changed greatly during the last 10 years. Industry statistics suggest production levels of 240,000 tonnes are routinely achieved. The average annual cost of production is estimated at $361/tonne (ABARE, 2007/08). The gross value of production (GVP) averaged $181 M/year between 2006 and 2008. This is not significantly different to the GVP achieved in 2001-02. The value of exports has been estimated at $27 million (Clarke et al., 2010).

The Allium family contains more than 300 species including Leeks, Garlic, Spring Onions, Shallots and Chives. The pungent onion smell is caused by the presence of allicins which is released when part of the bulb is cut. This is what causes your eyes to water.

It can take from three to six months for onions to germinate from seed to bulb, depending on region, soil type and the location’s climatic conditions.

For more information see this Onions Australia article, or view more onion production graphs from the ABS. Current onion industry members and levey payers can access over 25 years of research and development on the Onions Australia website.

Potatoes: It’s All About Taste & Convenience

Australian consumers are buying potatoes for taste and convenience, according to new research funded by Horticulture Australia Ltd using the National Fresh Potato Levy with matching funds from the Australian Government. And they will keep buying more potatoes too!

In October 2014 AUSVEG announced that the first results from the industry-funded initiative, revealing encouraging new insights into purchase triggers and consumption habits relating to fresh potatoes. The results show that consumers see taste and convenience as major factors when purchasing potatoes, and this suggests there is an opoortunity to increase consumption among certain consumer groups.

“These results highlight the high level of importance placed on the availability of potatoes and, more importantly, emphasise the intention of some groups of consumers – particularly males and individuals aged between 25-44 years – to purchase more potatoes in the future,” said AUSVEG spokesperson Michael Bodnarcuk.

“The Potato Tracker project provides growers with market data which is packed full of possibilities and could allow them to tailor their offerings to target areas of potential market growth.”

The project is being carried out by consumer research organisation Colmar Brunton, utilising online questionnaires to sample wide cross-section of consumers.

The study so far has also found that Australian generally expect potato produce to remain fresh for 17 days, one of the longest shelf lives for a horticultural product, and that this expectation is typically being met.

“This report has expanded our knowledge of consumer expectations and global innovation in the potato industry, which will assist growers to better understand consumer attitudes towards potatoes, as well as their expectations” said Mr Bodnarcuk.

“Australian growers have always been trend setters, keen to embrace new developments and take full advantage of potential areas of market growth. Assets such as the Potato Tracker provide growers with highly-valuable insights, allowing them to understand where innovation is needed and gear their businesses accordingly.”

AUSVEG is the leading horticultural body representing more than 2,000 Australian potato growers. Read the AUSVEG Press Release.