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COI maintains visibility with stringent testing programs

Kay Riley, president of Certified Onions Inc., said the nonprofit’s membership base has grown to 26 members this season. Members include DeBoer Farms, a shallot grower in Nyssa, OR.

Members voluntarily undergo stringent testing for off-label pesticide use and random maximum residue levels. Third-party auditing is performed at both the field and shed levels. Pathogen testing is also available.

“We are currently testing through membership approximately 70 percent of the acres in the valley or approximately 12,000 acres,” he told The Produce News. “We also do random testing for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which effectively reaches 95 percent of the onions in the valley tested for MRL levels.”

Riley, who is also general manager at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, said onions in the valley matured early. “Yields appear to be only average with some very good fields and other fields that have suffered from iris yellow spot virus and extreme heat this summer,” he stated. “This was the hottest summer on record with over 70 days over 90 degrees and more than 13 days over 100. The result is that the yields are very variable and will be difficult to determine until harvest is complete.”

Riley said there is considerable interest in export this season, and COI is working to reestablish some of its business relationships.

“COI has been involved in a number of research projects trying to establish a correlation between irrigation water quality and the presence of pathogens,” he added. “Idaho, Oregon and Washington recently had a visit from officials at the Food & Drug Administration who are writing the produce safety rule. The visit was very productive as they were able to see first-hand our practices and some of the things we are doing. They were especially interested in our testing protocols for pathogens. There was a comment session held with the FDA officials and over 200 people attended.”