Sustainability Is A Way Of Life For Vegetable Producer Okray Family Farms

A few years ago when the word “sustainability” was first tossed around, its definition was a little ambiguous, meaning different things to different people. Today, things couldn’t be more clear. Sustainability is a way of life for growers who want to see their businesses continue to grow and prosper. To be sustainable, growers must remain profitable and operate their farms in a way that preserves resources and creates efficiencies.

Sustainability is a key component at Okray Family Farms in Wisconsin. Pictured here (from left) Jim Okray, vice president of operations, and Rich Rashke, farm manager.
Sustainability is a key component at Okray Family Farms in Wisconsin. Pictured here (from left) Jim Okray, vice president of operations, and Rich Rashke, farm manager.

Top 100 Grower Okray Family Farms in Plover, WI — a farm that has been growing potatoes, sweet corn, and other cash crops for more than 100 years — is no stranger to this concept or what it means to the future of the operation. Rich Rashke, who is in his 10th season as farm manager, says virtually everything Okray Family Farms does encompasses sustainability.

When the farm first embraced the concept, Rashke says avoiding crop loss was one of the biggest goals, but that has since expanded to include everything from planting preparations to postharvest field and equipment maintenance.
“Sustainability is crucial and completely [determines] how we maintain our fields [throughout the year], our equipment, and our facilities,” he says.

Precision Tools
To become more efficient with field operations, which includes tilling, planting, and fertilizer and irrigation applications, the farm uses precision agriculture products from Trimble. According to Rashke, the tools paid for themselves in about two years by eliminating variables and improving efficiencies.

The farm began using precision technology about seven years ago with the addition of steering systems to two large articulated tractors used for tillage work. Since that time, a Trimble Autopilot system has been added to six more tractors used for field work.

“We find with the help of Trimble and other GPS systems, we can diversify our tilling program to accommodate multiple field operations simultaneously and maintain consistent repeatability for every field and every application — every year,” he says. “Plus, using the steering function reduces operator fatigue, which allows [him] to be more attentive to the equipment and the current application. We’re able to streamline processes in the field, which reduces our overall operation costs and, ultimately, our carbon footprint.”

To apply fertilizers, the farm uses variable rate application along with broadcasting. As a result, Rashke says with precision tools, they can be within 2% to 3% of the target application. “Using the right amount of product and getting the fertilizer only where it needs to be reduces the risk of overapplication, which helps avoid leaching through the soil and reduces costs,” he adds.

Similarly, variable rate irrigation enables the farm to apply water at different rates for a field, depending on specific soil conditions.

“With computerized irrigation systems, we take advantage of the variable rate technology for each specific field and soil condition so we are more precise,” he says. “Plus, our water management has improved and resources are preserved.” (See “Competition For Water Resources.”)

Other Sustainable Tactics
In addition to using precision technology, Okray Family Farms employs other tactics to increase its level of sustainability. In 2012, the operation created a carbon footprint map and devised a plan to reduce carbon emissions during the next decade. The Cool Farm Tool (CFT), developed by Unilever, was used to make the map. (For more information on the CFT, go to coolfarmtool.org.)

Upgrading equipment is helping them achieve this goal. For example, using tractors that use biofuels decreases emissions, and the addition of Tier 4 engines in new trucks is a step toward reducing the farm’s carbon footprint, explains Rashke.

He also cites the Central Wisconsin Windshed Partnership as another sustainability effort. The program was started at the Hancock Agricultural Research Station in 2000, and since that time the farm has added more than 25 miles of windbreaks along field edges.

“It started out as a windbreak to reduce field erosion,” Rashke recalls. “Along the edges of fields, [the windbreak] not only helps with erosion, it adds to wildlife habitats that harbor along field edges. We feel continually adding windbreaks benefits our operation and restores some of the natural resources.”

Reducing soil erosion with cover crops is another sustainability tactic employed by the farm.

“We try to do what we can, knowing that there are times of the year where the ground is bare,” Rashke explains. “With cover crops, we try to protect as much land as possible from erosion. It helps us with weed control and it helps rebuild the soil.”

Quality Packaging
In the packing shed, the installation of a new box machine that cost upwards of $700,000 was a big addition to the farm’s sustainability efforts. The state-of-the-art equipment looks for internal defects in potatoes and has seven lanes for sizing and boxing, which increases production volume capabilities.

As there are not many packing sheds with this type of equipment, Rashke says that it gives the farm an advantage: Only high-quality potatoes are being packed and delivered. The farm also packages potatoes in many different sizes, and very few suppliers in the area can offer that flexibility, he adds.

“Our current customers are confident that they will receive a higher-quality product and our quality assurance,” he says. “We try to focus in on what people want. It isn’t just about the quality of the product; it’s about the quality of the product and its desired packaging.”

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Sustainability Is A Way Of Life For Vegetable Producer Okray Family Farms

  1. […] Successful farmers must operate their farms in ways that preserve resources and create efficiencies. Earlier this year Vegetable Grower magazine featured Okray Family Farms, near Plover, Wisconsin. My brother Rich has been farm manager there for 10 years, and he described the methods they use to sustain the farm. Virtually everything about the 100 year old farm encompasses sustainability, including planting preparations, managing the post-harvest field, and equipment maintenance. “Sustainability is crucial and completely [determines] how we maintain our fields [throughout the year], our equipment, and our facilities,” Rich said. If you are interested in reading the entire article about Rich and the Okray Family Farms click here. […]

Farm Management Stories
CitrusUSDA Expands Crop Insurance Options For Fruit And Nut Growers
July 24, 2015
The USDA announced the expansion of crop insurance to provide additional options for fruit and nut producers. The Supplemental Coverage Read More
FFVA 2015 Annual Convention logo
CitrusFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Annual Convention Stacking Up To Be One For The Ages
July 23, 2015
Association's 72nd gathering to feature high-profile speakers, up-to-the-minute Issues Forums, and some fun to mix in with the business of the day. Read More
CitrusInternational Report Confirms 2014 As Earth’s Warmest Year On Record
July 21, 2015
Scientific compilation notes climate markers continue to show global warming trend. Read More
FruitsWashington Supreme Court Rules Workers Paid Piece-Rate Wages Are Entitled To Rest-Break Pay
July 21, 2015
  According to a news story in the Yakima News Herald, the state Supreme Court of Washington unanimously ruled that Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusGMO Labeling Battle Moves To House Floor
July 21, 2015
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 was passed by the Agriculture Committee last week and will head Read More
man expressing opinion through bullhorn
CitrusStay Opinionated, My Farmer Friends
July 15, 2015
How far are you willing to go to defend your beliefs? Read More
Washington Capitol building
CitrusUnited Fresh Washington Conference Connects You With Key Government Officials
July 14, 2015
United Fresh has announced the Washington Conference, which will be held Sept. 28-30 in Washington D.C. The conference offers an Read More
The Latest
Citrus2 Dozen Florida Nurseries Vying For Coveted Cannabis Gr…
July 27, 2015
With only five spots available to produce the low-THC ‘Charlotte’s Web’ strain, tedious review process is in full swing. Read More
CitrusUSDA Expands Crop Insurance Options For Fruit And Nut G…
July 24, 2015
The USDA announced the expansion of crop insurance to provide additional options for fruit and nut producers. The Supplemental Coverage Read More
FFVA 2015 Annual Convention logo
CitrusFlorida Fruit & Vegetable Association Annual Conven…
July 23, 2015
Association's 72nd gathering to feature high-profile speakers, up-to-the-minute Issues Forums, and some fun to mix in with the business of the day. Read More
CitrusInternational Report Confirms 2014 As Earth’s Warmest Y…
July 21, 2015
Scientific compilation notes climate markers continue to show global warming trend. Read More
non-gmo label leafy greens
CitrusGMO Labeling Battle Moves To House Floor
July 21, 2015
The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 was passed by the Agriculture Committee last week and will head Read More
man expressing opinion through bullhorn
CitrusStay Opinionated, My Farmer Friends
July 15, 2015
How far are you willing to go to defend your beliefs? Read More
Washington Capitol building
CitrusUnited Fresh Washington Conference Connects You With Ke…
July 14, 2015
United Fresh has announced the Washington Conference, which will be held Sept. 28-30 in Washington D.C. The conference offers an Read More
CitrusEl Niño Could Be Strongest In 50 Years
July 14, 2015
In the latest AccuWeather report, Brett Anderson, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather says El Niño has strengthened over the past few Read More
CitrusFlorida Agriculture Financial Management Conference Sch…
July 12, 2015
Educational program of prominent speakers to provide the lowdown on ag business trends. Read More
Farm ManagementGenNext Growers Taking Marketing To The Next Level
July 7, 2015
In part two of our Marketing Tips From 14 GenNext Growers feature, we conclude with the remaining marketing and branding Read More
Farm ManagementPMA Advocates For Improvements To Proposed FSMA Mandato…
July 2, 2015
This week the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) submitted comments on behalf of its membership to FDA regarding the proposed Mandatory Read More
Farm ManagementMarketing Tips From GenNext Growers
June 29, 2015
Whether your business is in its beginning stages of development or is already established and in need of increased visibility, Read More
USDA organic logo
Farm ManagementThe ROI On An Organic Checkoff [Opinion]
June 29, 2015
Organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers than conventional agriculture, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of Read More
Farm ManagementIndustry Experts Sound Off On Climate Change
June 24, 2015
Growers and stakeholders share their thoughts on what they see is happening in the environment, and what you might be dealing with in the future. Read More
CitrusCalifornia High Heat Warning Issued
June 23, 2015
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is advising all employers to protect their outdoor workers from the Read More
hungry child eating giant sandwich at dinner
Farm ManagementFuture Food Supply Needs Serving Up Super-Sized Challen…
June 16, 2015
Sustainable solutions, investment in new technologies musts to feed the future world. Read More
secrets can do lots of damage
CitrusConfidentiality Counterproductive For Today’s Far…
June 15, 2015
No longer is transparency an anomaly among the grower community, it's become necessary to survive and succeed. Read More
Farm ManagementFood Safety Audit Cost-Share Programs Offered
June 9, 2015
Purdue Extension and the Illiana Watermelon Association (IWA) are offering audit cost-sharing programs to Indiana fruit and vegetable growers who Read More