Friday, March 24, 2017

King County – home of the Seahawks, Microsoft, and farmers

Hector Castro
Communications
 

Director Sandison joins panelists at
South King County Ag Town Hall.
When people think of King County, their first thoughts may be of Seattle, Microsoft, or Boeing - not necessarily cows and tractors. But King County FFA and 4-H members, small farm operators, and local elected leaders spent part of National Ag Day this year discussing farming in the shadow of Seattle.

Though held in the suburban community of Auburn, the South King County Agriculture Town Hall drew several dozen people. The panel included WSDA Director Derek Sandison, dairy farmer Leann Krainick, King County 4-H club coordinator Nancy Baskett, WSU Research and Extension director John Stark, and Auburn City Councilman Bill Peloza, who also sits on the board of the local farmers market.

“These are the kinds of events needed to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture in the Puget Sound Basin,” Derek said.

One of the challenges of farming is land disappearing to urban sprawl and the subsequent increase in the price of the remaining land. Finding people to farm the land that does remain is another problem which is why more education is needed to interest a new generation of farmers and ranchers to pick up the proverbial ball, or hoe in this case.

This is where programs like FFA and 4-H can help.

“All kids and adults have access to agriculture, even in the cities,” said Nancy Baskett, who in addition to coordinating 4-H clubs in King County also raises rabbits.

High school students Cierra Zak and Tyler Pitre, both juniors at Decature High in nearby Federal Way, agreed that anyone can learn more about agriculture, even city kids. These two FFA members said most of their classmates have never raised animals or been on a farm, but are eager to work with animals given the chance. The chicks (referring to baby chickens and not their classmates) are particularly popular, they said.

Despite the challenges, many opportunities exist for agriculture, especially for closing the farmer-consumer gap.
Booth at the South King
County Ag Town Hall.

The proximity of these many farms to the Seattle metro area is a key opportunity. Farming remains widespread in King County, with more than 1,800 farms averaging 30 acres each. An acre is roughly the size of a football field, so if you imagine 1,800 farms each the size of 30 Seahawks football fields,that is a substantial amount of land where agriculture continues to thrive in a metropolitan county.

King County farmers, because of their proximity to Seattle’s booming population, have the opportunity to connect with consumers in person to deepen their understanding of agriculture. Whether it’s at a farmers market, an on-farm produce stand, or even farm tours, they have chances for a personal connection with consumers that can be more challenging for farmers on more remote farms in Eastern Washington.

Leann Krainick, dairy farmer and a King County Agriculture Commission member, said it’s up to those in agriculture to help educate those who are not.

“People want to learn,” she said, so she starts each day by asking herself, “What am I going to do to promote farming today?”


In summary:  WSDA Director Derek Sandison joined a panel discussion during National Ag Week to discuss challenges and opportunities for agriculture in South King County, a region more known for nearby Seattle, Microsoft, or Boeing - not cows and tractors. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

During National Ag Week, the numbers count

Mike Louisell
Communications

How many times have you heard that the public will understand and support agriculture more if farmers would just tell their story better? One key part of telling that story is the numbers that help quantify the amazing work that farmers do.

Washington’s farmers and ranchers will soon have the opportunity to help tell that story by taking part in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Held every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the census provides a count of U.S. farms, ranches, those who operate them and much more.

“All types and sizes of farms and ranches have a story to be told through the census,” said Chris Mertz, Northwest regional director for NASS’ office in Olympia.

Information gained through the census helps USDA shape programs that help agriculture, by sharing information such as:

  • How many farms there are in each state and the average acres per farm?
  • Land use, ownership, and production practices.
  • Income and expenditures.
  • Operator characteristics and demographics, including the number of farms operated by women and military service veterans.

Census of Ag mailout

As we continue to share current statistics during National Ag Week, the next highly anticipated survey is still a year away.

“We’ll continue to talk about the importance of the census, particularly as we move closer to mailing out census forms in December,” Mertz said.

NASS also hopes to increase the number of farmers who respond online. The online census form allows producers to skip over questions that don’t apply to them, calculates totals automatically and provides drop-down menus for common answers.

“Since our 2012 Census, NASS has put great efforts in improving the online reporting experience,” Mertz said. “I’ve seen demonstrations and it’s impressive.”

Washington response above average

Although NASS statisticians and support staff produce many surveys each year, the Census of Agriculture is the only source of uniform and comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the U.S. Washington had a response rate of 78.4% in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, slightly higher than other states.

“This is the ag community’s opportunity to help shape American agriculture – its policies, services, and assistance programs,” Mertz said.

The results are relied upon heavily by those who serve farmers and rural communities, including federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations, extension educators, researchers, and farmers and ranchers themselves.

Producers who are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 can sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture report form by visiting www.agcensus.usda.gov and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button.

The NASS defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year, in this case 2017.

In summary: National Ag Week is a good time to remember that the 2017 Census of Agriculture is coming and participation is a great way to help share the story of agriculture.

Monday, March 6, 2017

This pest loves your flowers

Karla Salp
WSDA Pest Program Outreach Coordinator

What is green, shiny, and a pest that WSDA hopes doesn’t cross the river?

The Japanese Beetle

Japanese beetle is a metallic green and bronze beetle first found in the US in 1916. A beautiful bug to look at, those in the Eastern States and Midwest are familiar with the havoc this particular pest can inflict on the environment.

Smelling the Roses

Roses are one of the favorite plants that Japanese beetles attack. In fact, the scent used to attract the pests to traps has a very pleasant, floral scent. But roses aren’t the only plants the beetles attack. They eat the foliage, flowers, and fruit of over 300 different plant species, including favorites like grapes, hops, and cannabis in addition to roses.

How’s the lawn?

M.G. Klein, USDA Ag Research Service, Bugwood.org


One sign that Japanese beetles (or their relative, the European chaffer) are in your area is to take a look at your lawn from late fall to early spring. Japanese beetles overwinter as grubs in the ground with lawns as a favorite location. They feed on the roots of your grass all winter long.

But that’s not the only damage they do. These grubs attract everything from raccoons to ravens. They dig up your lawn looking for a mid-winter tasty snack. The upside is one small natural control for Japanese beetles. The downside is that it destroys the turf and, sadly, even this predator feeding does not keep the beetles in check.

Monitoring for Japanese Beetles
Japanese beetles in trap

Both Washington and Oregon routinely monitor for this invasive bug, and last year Oregon found an infestation in Portland. Almost 400 beetles were found – the most ever in the state. Now the Oregon Department of Agriculture is poised to start a multi-year effort to eradicate the pest.

With the increased finds in Oregon, Washington is on alert for the potential for the bugs to cross the Columbia River into Vancouver. While WSDA normally has a few traps in the Vancouver, in 2017 a full-time trapper will be dedicated to placing about 400 traps in the area.

Don’t give pests a ride

Kevin D. Arvin, Bugwood.org
While it’s unlikely that a beetle would actually fly across the river, the reality is that thousands of people cross the river from Portland to Vancouver every day. Whether a Washingtonian just drives back from working in the City of Roses or visits an Oregon nursery to find a favorite plant, the threat is real that humans could transport this pest beyond their natural flight capability.

Report suspected beetles
WSDA monitors for Japanese beetles throughout the state each year. However, if you think you have found Japanese beetle in your yard, take a picture and capture the bug if you can. Then be sure to contact the WSDA pest program at pestprogram@agr.wa.gov or call 1-800-664-6684.

Your roses will thank you and so will we.







Life cycle of the Japanese beetle
Unless otherwise noted, images in this blog are courtesy of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

In summary: The WSDA Pest Program monitors for Japanese beetle throughout the state each year and is now asking the public to join them by sending alerts when they find beetles in their yards. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Support state’s seed industry by preventing volunteer Brassica bloom

Victor Shaul
Manager, Seed Inspection Program
Harvesting seed crop in Skagit County

If you grow any type of Brassica species, remember that any plants left to bloom and produce seeds are regulated within Washington State. Brassica plants that go to seed must be isolated from other Brassica flowering crops to protect against cross-pollination.

Seed production is an important industry for Washington’s economy and for world food supply. For instance, one-quarter of the world’s cabbage seed comes from Western Washington. More than 15 species of Brassica vegetable seed crops are grown in Washington. To safeguard the purity of these products, crops must be isolated by specific distances to prevent cross-pollination.

Common names for plants within the Brassica family – also known as Crucifer family because the 4 petals of the flowers look like a cross or crucifer – include cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, mustard, rutabaga, turnip, pak choi, and others.

When open-pollinated species like Brassica species are allowed to bolt, flower and go to seed, they can spread pollen to neighboring fields and farms, contaminating other Brassica seed crops. This has been happening, especially in northwestern Washington counties.

Why “pin” seed crops?

Growers of Brassica crops intended for fresh market sale may not allow their plants to over-winter and go to seed unless they follow the state’s rules. WSDA regulations require Brassica seed growers to participate in cooperative events that identify (‘pin’) their crop locations. This applies to “seed savers” as well.  If you intend to allow a Brassica crop to overwinter and produce seed, you must identify the location of that field on a public map.

‘Pinning’ the locations of cross-pollinated seed crops, which started in Washington State in the 1940s, brings together seed crop growers to mutually map out where crops will be planted with the goal of preventing unwanted cross-pollination. At a minimum, a half-mile distance is required between Brassica plantings of the same species. The distance is greater for different Brassica species.


In Western Washington, pinning days occur the first weekday of March and June at the WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research & Extension Center in Mount Vernon. Similarly, pinning of cross-pollinated vegetable seed crops in central Washington takes place at the WSU Grant and Adams Counties Extension office in Moses Lake. This time-honored tradition of agricultural cooperation keeps the reputation of our state’s seed industry as high quality, safe, and productive.

Please do your part to support Washington’s seed industry – be a good neighbor by preventing volunteer Brassica bloom, or take part in the state’s pinning process if you want to produce seed.

If you have questions, contact the WSDA Seed Program or your local WSU Extension office.

In summary: WSDA is reminding farmers of Brassica crops that plants left to bloom and produce seeds are regulated in our state and must be isolated from other Brassica flowering crops to protect against cross-pollination. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day of fruit inspection reveals importance of service, and safety

Robert Ambriz
WSDA Safety Officer

F&V inspector, Russell Burkett, checking apples
at a produce packing facility.
As our agency’s safety team continues its initiative to shadow WSDA employees to learn about their work safety concerns, it falls on each of the safety officers to spend time in the field. For my job shadow day, I spent time with Russell Burkett, an inspector with the WSDA Fruit and Vegetable (F&V) Inspection Program.

As part of a fairly standard work day, Russell visits a different packing warehouse each month. I was able to see firsthand some of the workplace hazards Russell and all of our F&V inspectors encounter.

Potential packing warehouse risks

For instance, forklift traffic is common in produce packing warehouses. Most operate on propane, which puts carbon monoxide (CO) into the air. I advise F&V staff to be extra cautious when in forklift traffic areas, and to report any type of CO symptoms to a supervisor or me so we can check the air quality.

Also, many warehouses use chemicals, such as ammonia, acid, and chlorine. These can present hazards. For instance, in December 2016, some residents of the town of Zillah were evacuated due to an ammonia leak from a fruit company warehouse. I encourage workers to know where to find Safety Data Sheets. These are important documents that give details about hazardous chemicals and how they affect health and safety in the workplace.

Once every month, I give a presentation to the F&V staff in Yakima about hazards they may encounter and how to deal with them.

Along with my safety focus on these shadowing visits, I’ve learned more about why it’s so important for F&V inspectors to spend most of their day being physically present at the industry facilities they serve.

Inspectors key link for industry

WSDA serves the produce industry by ensuring they meet quality standards, especially for the products they export outside the U.S. Different countries require various levels of inspection. Generally, F&V staff inspects about two percent of every 100 pieces being shipped – that equals 24-40 apples from every box.

Inspectors assess a grade (e.g. #1 Extra Fancy Red Delicious) and condition for defects such as decay, skin breaks, color, blemishes and so forth. They’ll do pressure and sweetness tests. Determining ripeness may involve a chew, thumb or starch iodine test. These are technical processes that require a good deal of training to learn.

According to F&V data, Washington shipped 46 million apples between October 2016 and the start of 2017. Washington is tops in the nation for apple production, on average producing 2.5 million tons of apples per year valued at more than $2 billion. 

“Without the services of F&V inspectors, we could lose about 10 loads a day,” commented the warehouse manager I spoke with. “Having them in our warehouse provides peace of mind.”

The WSDA safety team is committed to making sure our employees are protected from workplace hazards – so they can consistently provide these vital services to Washington State and return home safe and healthy every day.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Don't get stung by fees - register your hives

Karla Salp
Pest Program Outreach Coordinator

Although the state is still either frozen or soggy depending on your location, it won’t be long before the bees start buzzing and ramping up their honey-making for the year. That means it is time again to register your hives.

All beekeepers – even home hobbyists – are required to register their hives with the state. The fees start at just $5 for up to five hives and range up to $300 if you have over 1,000 hives. The registration fees support apiary research projects. For example, fees have been used to support research into Colony Collapse Disorder and colony health.

If you previously registered hives but won't have any in 2017, WSDA requests that you complete the form and indicate that you don't have any hives so that you will be removed from their list.

Registration is due by April 1st and is subject to late fees if not paid by then (no fooling.) You must register your hives each year.

Go to agr.wa.gov/PlantsInsects/Apiary/ to download the registration form. You can also contact the WSDA Pest Program at pestprogram@agr.wa.gov or call them at 360-902-2070 with any questions.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

agri.CULTURE - The woman behind the camera

Karla Salp
Communications

Sue Tebow with her horse. Photo courtesy of Sue Tebow.
For Sue Tebow, inspiration struck as she scrolled through her Facebook newsfeed.

She came across a post by Humans of New York – a project begun by an amateur photographer in New York featuring a street portrait of New Yorkers accompanied by a few of their own words sharing their stories. The photographs became a social media phenomena and the project’s Facebook page now has more than 18 million followers since its inception in 2010.

To Sue it was clear that the simple interface of a photo and a few words from the subject had resonated with people around the world. She decided to try her hand at a similar project in her community, combining two of her passions – photography and helping people reconnect with farmers. That’s when agri.CULTURE was born.

Her goal: to photograph and post one picture and story of someone in agriculture each day on her Facebook page. Her husband thought that would be too much, but Sue knew that with just her neighbors in the Block 40 area near Moses Lake she had 300 potential farmers to feature.

“No one is going to tell their story better than they are,” Sue said. “Who is going to tell their stories if they don’t tell it themselves?” 

It has not been easy. Sue works hard to capture photos that she can feature on each and every day, and sometimes struggles to find willing subjects.

Still, in a matter of a few months, she has managed to post a new photo each day of the week except Sunday since last April, along with the a few words from the people she’s featured. Her Facebook page has grown to more than 5,000 followers just by word of mouth and sharing. By comparison, WSDA’s Facebook page has about 4,000 followers, though it was created in 2012.

Like many in the agriculture community, Sue believes that those who work in agriculture need to reconnect with the vast majority people who are no longer familiar with life or work on a farm.
To make farm life real, Sue insists on photographing people as they really are. No makeup prep needed for this photoshoot – Sue wants to catch people doing what they really do on a day-to-day basis on the farm.

As quickly as her project has grown, Sue hopes that one day it will be a national effort.
“Washington, the Pacific Northwest, then beyond,” she said.

If you work in agriculture, might be a willing subject for Sue, or are just interested in connecting with her, you can email sue.agriculture@gmail.com. You can also visit Sue’s Facebook page to see the photos and view the stories of farmers she meets.