When we speak of biosecurity, we generally think about protecting our society against biological attack from other countries, or even terrorists. But in the context of growing, biosecurity is the exclusion (not sanitation) of disease-causing organisms that can destroy an operation.
Biosecurity is a larger issue than a normal sanitation program. Biosecurity looks at controlling sources of disease from outside of a facility rather than simply cleaning up equipment and work surfaces.
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Sanitation works within a facility. Biosecurity is an extra ring of protection outside of the facility.
Indoor growing systems are touted as being more immune from disease, especially soilless systems, because growers have effectively cut out the possibility of infection by a large number of soil-borne diseases by removing the soil. However, once a room is sterilized and operating, disease-causing organisms can gain entry via avenues a grower probably did not anticipate.
Organisms can hitchhike into a facility in many ways. Bacteria travel and live primarily in water. This makes bacteria especially troublesome in hydroponic and aquaponic environments.
Whatever you can do to keep bacteria from entering your water system will save you from tremendous headaches and loss. Fungi spores can be moved in many ways as well—carried by people or animals, moved into a facility in soil or by bringing in infected plant material.
For example, let’s say a delivery truck has been driving around in an infected field before it comes to a facility to drop off supplies. The supplies might be perfectly fine. But what about the pathogen-infested mud that falls off of the truck and is tracked into a facility by workers? Have a plan to make the trucks deliver products away from the main entry point.
There are many things you can do to make your operation more insulated from disease-causing organisms. Here are five key areas:
Do not allow tours of the facility. It is easy to have a soft spot for school children who want a field trip, or curious relatives that want a guided tour. Don’t do it. Put in windows that visitors can look through. Tire shops and other industries use viewing windows in their operations because of insurance and liability concerns so customers are used to this type of restriction on tours. Visitors often want to touch everything and this is how diseases are transferred.
In aquaponics, fish will often get spooked by visitors and some will even jump out of the tank onto the floor. Banging on the tanks, flash photography and even splashing the water can cause fish to panic. Fish, like any other animal grown for meat, will lose weight if spooked or stressed too much. And it is not rare to see fish jump out of the tank when they are spooked. It is natural for people to want to pick up a fish and put it back into the tank. If they did this at another facility before coming to yours, you can be asking for trouble.
Never give tours to other people in the business. Their standards of cleanliness might not match your own. Another example is the visitor who smokes and rolls his own tobacco. He can inadvertently transmit tobacco mosaic virus to your tomatoes. Tobacco mosaic virus is easily spread by direct contact with tobacco products on the hands, clothing and tools of those who have handled tobacco products. All of these problems can be avoided by using visitor windows for viewing the facility.
Have workers frequently wash their hands and dip their shoes in sterilizing solution before entering the facility. Have everyone working in the facility change clothes before each work day so as not to spread disease that might have hitched a ride on clothes. Because densities of plants and fish are so much higher in indoor operations, this makes the spread of disease faster and potentially more catastrophic.
Control the weeds and vegetation around the facility. Oftentimes diseases, insects and even rodents live on weeds and secondary hosts and then move into the facility when their food sources start to diminish or the weather turns cold.
Have a secure source of water. Know the chemical analysis of the water and its bacteria counts. Have a way to treat the water to purify it and sanitize it. Don’t use the results from just one analysis because things might change over time. Consistently monitor the water in order to catch and flag items that need attention before they become a problem.
Always source your plants, fish and other growing materials from reputable growers who practice biosecurity measures in an effective manner. And never get free materials from a friend—no matter how well intentioned—if they do not practice effective biosecurity.
A Final Thought
You have done a good job sanitizing everything in your facility and keeping problems at bay. Now, make your operation even more secure from disaster by implementing a mindset of biosecurity. The Secret Service places several rings of security around the president. Shouldn’t you be doing the same for your operation?