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
FruitsHow To Get Started With Partnerships And Sponsorships
March 25, 2015
Mark Saunders of Saunders Farm says your business is never too small or too big to get more value for what you do on your farm. Read More
FruitsValue Through Partnerships And Sponsorships [Opinion]
March 25, 2015
Mark Saunders of Saunders Farms says admission is one way to get value for what you do, but sponsorships and partnerships are the next level. Read More
Summer Foley gets crowned Miss Florida Citrus 2015 by 2004 winner Nikki Upthegrove Matthews and reigning Miss Florida Vicotria Cowen
CitrusMeet The New Miss Florida Citrus
March 24, 2015
Pageant marks comeback of longstanding industry tradition. Read More
Apples & PearsMonster Crops: How Much Is Too Much?
March 24, 2015
With larger-than-ever crops, more new varieties and uncertain markets, we explore the current state of apple production and what it means for the future of the industry. Read More
CitrusReport: Family Farms Are Still Backbone Of U.S. Agriculture
March 17, 2015
USDA reports that 97% of all U.S. farms are family-owned. Read More
FNV logo
FruitsBranding Fruit Is A Good Call
March 16, 2015
The new FNV marketing campaign, launched by the Produce Marketing Association, makes sense in targeting teens. Read More
defending agriculture; GMOs; farm innovation
Farm ManagementDefending Innovation Has Become Full-Time Job For Agriculture [Opinion]
March 16, 2015
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says the notion that laying out facts in defense of science somehow constitutes a grand conspiracy should give us all pause. Read More
The Latest
CitrusProposed Farm Bill Provision To Limit Payments To Non-F…
March 25, 2015
USDA has proposed a new rule which would limit payment to those who are only actively engaged in farming. Read More
CitrusReport: Family Farms Are Still Backbone Of U.S. Agricul…
March 17, 2015
USDA reports that 97% of all U.S. farms are family-owned. Read More
defending agriculture; GMOs; farm innovation
Farm ManagementDefending Innovation Has Become Full-Time Job For Agric…
March 16, 2015
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says the notion that laying out facts in defense of science somehow constitutes a grand conspiracy should give us all pause. Read More
high-technology
Farm ManagementKeeping Tabs On Technology Crucial To Your Business [Op…
March 13, 2015
There is plenty of outside-the-box thinking being used today to solve longstanding problems. Are you up to speed? Read More
CitrusWhy Honesty Is The Best Policy When Working With The Pu…
March 13, 2015
While at the recent Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention held in Hershey, PA, I sat in on a panel discussion Read More
Farm ManagementDon’t Sleep On Catastrophic Crop Insurance
March 12, 2015
Rude awakening could be in store for producers passing on noninsured crop disaster assistance program (NAP). Read More
Farm Management$66.5 Million Pledged For Produce Industry
March 10, 2015
USDA announces funding for research into specialty crops and organic production. Read More
CitrusMake The Most Of Social Media For Your Business
March 10, 2015
Social media is a valuable, and inexpensive tool to promote your business and reach a wide audience. Read More
CitrusPacked Political Agenda On Tap For Florida Farmers
February 23, 2015
The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s board of directors are working on a number of key issues that will be front-burner throughout 2015. Read More
Farm ManagementNorthern California Indian Tribe Plans Pot Farm
February 19, 2015
Pinoleville tribal investor – and casino developer – expects marijuana facility construction to begin soon. Read More
Farm ManagementColorado Fruit And Vegetable Growers Association To Hos…
February 11, 2015
The association will hold its first conference in Denver, CO, Feb. 25. Read More
CitrusFlorida Agriculture Commissioner Pipes Up To Protect St…
February 5, 2015
Adam Putnam testifies before joint Congressional hearing on the impacts of WOTUS. Read More
bee keeper
CitrusTop Beekeepers Wanted
February 2, 2015
Bayer CropScience seeks nominations for award honoring innovations in the beekeeping community. Read More
CitrusNominees Sought For Florida Agricultural Environmental …
January 26, 2015
Honor recognizes those developing and adopting environmentally innovative farming practices. Read More
CitrusGrowers Should Stay Grounded When Reaching For Lofty Go…
January 20, 2015
Unmanned aerial vehicles are all the rage. Can and will this technology become a standard tool for farmers? Read More
Farm ManagementEcological Farming Association Conference Nears
January 19, 2015
The 35th annual conference will be held Jan. 21-24 in Asilomar, CA. Read More
CitrusScientists Say 2014 Warmest Year Since 1880
January 19, 2015
Separate studies by NASA and NOAA confirm continuance of long-term warming trend. Read More
CitrusStudy Predicts No Farmers And Ranchers Under Age 35 By …
January 7, 2015
Research conducted in Wyoming examines how the agricultural community is aging and what needs to be done to encourage young people to pursue a career in farming. Read More