AGRICULTURAL WATER SAFETY

What is Agricultural water?

Agricultural water is water that is used to grow crops such as fruits and vegetables as well as bring up livestock to provide food for the world’s population. When we think about our locally farmed food across the globe, we expect the water used for these purposes to be as regulated as our drinking water. You will be happy to learn the FDA  (Food and Drug Administration) has created standards to ensure the quality of “irrigation water that is directly applied to the harvestable portion of a crop, water used for preparing crop sprays, and water used for washing or cooling harvested produce” (NSAC, p.1, 2014).

How is this water safe?

In the beginning of every growing season, and continuing through harvest, farmers are required by the FDA to inspect their agricultural water system to repair hazards that can lead to contamination. This inspection includes, but is not limited to, investigating surrounding runoff areas to surface water sources from nearby factories and other farms, inspecting equipment and maintaining upkeep to prevent environments where bacteria and mold can grow by minimizing the amount of pooled water and keeping their equipment clean and free of debris. 

Water that comes into contact with the harvested crop must be tested if it originates from surface water which can contain a high level of contaminants. In addition to this recurring testing, the water is subject to “certain actions to be taken when such water does not meet the quality standards (proposed §§ 112.44 and 112.45); and provide for alternative requirements for certain provisions under certain conditions (proposed § 112.12).”. (FDA, p.1, 2013). Water that undergoes treatment is required to be consistently monitored for safety throughout the growing season to secure quality. Farmers that use the public water supply and possess certifications or results do not need to undergo water treatments as these sources are already up to drinking water standards.If the source is a municipal water source, a copy of the municipality’s tests or certification of the quality is acceptable as verification of water quality” (Cornell University, p.1, 2019).

The Importance of clean Agricultural Water

Clean water is an essential part of life. The health risks of watering crops and giving animals contaminated water to drink can be costly to our ecosystem. Crops that come into contact with water that is not treated can affect us after harvest, after we prepared our favorite salad, for example, can cause an E-Coli outbreak. Washing your fruits and veggies in clean water brings the process full circle, providing you with the healthiest of sides for any dish. If the water supply for livestock drops below sufficient levels, production of milk and meats may decrease, cause disease within the animals and even death in severe cases (Smith, p.1, 2019).

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Sources and further readings:
Agricultural Water
https://sustainableagriculture.net/fsma/learn-about-the-issues/agricultural-water/ , NSAC, 2014

Standards For the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding Of Produce For Human Consumption
https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/01/16/2013-00123/standards-for-the-growing-harvesting-packing-and-holding-of-produce-for-human-consumption#p-1365 , FDA, 2013

Agricultural Water For Production
https://gaps.cornell.edu/educational-materials/decision-trees/agricultural-water-production/ , Cornell University, 2019

Water Quality For Livestock
https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-biosecurity/water-quality-livestock , Smith, Gerard, Government of Western Australia, 2019

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