FFVA trade associate member Waters Agricultural Laboratories Inc. began 37 years ago as a consulting firm, serving growers from its Camilla, Ga., headquarters. Its staff conducted soil tests before a grower would plant a crop, plant testing to make sure the crop was doing well, and nematode assays to help prevent attacks by soil-borne pests.
Today, the company still performs those services, but times have changed. It has evolved from a consulting firm to a fully accredited independent laboratory that offers a wide spectrum of services to its customers.
In addition to soil sampling, plant testing and nematode assays, Waters Agricultural Laboratories performs analyses of fertilizer, manure, sludge, water, feed and pesticides. While there has been tremendous growth in soil sampling, precision agriculture services and plant-tissue sampling in the past several years, the latest transformation has come because of the demand for food safety testing in the industry. Waters Agricultural Labs has developed into an ISO 17025 accredited food safety testing facility.
“The food safety services evolved because of demand in the industry,” said Keith Dominey, chief operating officer. “We now offer a full range of microbiological testing because of the demand for E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella analysis. We also offer a full range of pesticide residue analysis as well.”
Growers, packers and shippers are subject to the food safety demands of their customers. They depend on a lab such as Waters to provide accurate, independent test results to ensure that their products are safe and to help them to comply with Good Agricultural Practices audit requirements to become certified. Therefore, Waters Agricultural Laboratories must be fully accredited as well.
“We as a lab were audited by an independent company showing that we are using approved procedures, that our staff is trained properly, that our instruments are properly calibrated and that we meet certain quality control standards. We did this to obtain our ISO 17025 accreditation,” Dominey said. “We also continuously run proficiency samples to ensure accurate results. It’s quite an extensive process to become ISO 17025 accredited.” he said.
It took over a year for the company to earn this high level of accreditation, and it included hiring a full-time quality manager to oversee the process. “But it’s worth it and it’s also understandable,” said Dominey. “If I’m a grower and someone is telling me I have E. coli in my water, it’d better be someone who is using official methods and performing the test properly.”
Dominey says maintaining the company’s accreditation and keeping up with the latest regulations and technology are his greatest challenges. “Keeping up with what’s expected under the new Food Safety Modernization Act is important. Also, scientists are discovering things like new strains of E. coli. We have to keep up with the latest technology and make new tests available to detect these new strains. Pathogens are in our environment, we need to know what’s out there and be able to perform the expected tests.”
Some of the newest food safety testing that Waters Laboratories performs involves environmental samples. “A customer will send a swab or a sponge sample of surfaces within a packing facility or pre-cooler for example to ensure those surfaces are pathogen-free. It’s all part of the process a grower needs to undergo for him or her to become accredited or certified,” said Dominey.
“As a laboratory, what we have done in the past and what we will continue to do in the future is to provide analytical services to the agricultural community for all phases of their operation.”Waters Agricultural Laboratories, Inc.
P.O. Box 382
257 Newton Highway
Camilla, GA 31730-0382
(229) 336-7967 fax
Jessica Moss-Customer Service/Food Safety – firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Dominey-Chief Operating Officer – email@example.com
Jarrell Cooper-Vice President/Sales – firstname.lastname@example.org
Shannon Greene-Operations Manager/Precision Ag – email@example.com
Tonya McDaniel-Office Manager/Agronomist – firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Gaydos-Quality Manager/Microbiologist – email@example.com
Stephan Ramey-Technical Manager/Pesticide Chemist – firstname.lastname@example.org