Monday, December 21, 2015

Longtime farm families highlight changes in agriculture

Mary Beth Lang
Bioenergy and Special Projects Coordinator

To celebrate Washington's 125th birthday, WSDA reached out to our Centennial Farm families - those families who had been recognized for continuously operating the same farm for at least 100 years at the time of the state's Centennial.

More than 400 farms participated in the 1989 Centennial Farms project. From these families, we learned about the establishment and early history of farms from across the state. Taken as a whole, they told the story of how Washington was settled, how the public land laws were used to acquire farmland, and how farm families were instrumental in building communities and setting the course for the state.

The author visits with Centennial Farm 
owner Rick Nelson at the 125th 
Anniversary of Statehood event, Nov. 11, 2014.
In 2014, we wanted to find out whether these farms were still owned by the same families and to learn a little about what had changed over 25 years. Over the course of a year, aided by hardworking volunteers, we heard back from 286 farms, with 88 percent reporting the farm was still in the same family.

The responses provide a snapshot of each farm’s 2014 ownership, size and operation. Together, they illustrate many of the changes that have occurred on our state’s farms over the past 25 years, including:
The increased emphasis on “buy local” and sustainable agriculture.
The advent and growth of organic farming.
Major changes in the production of many of our top agricultural commodities.

To wrap up the project, we are producing an online publication -- Washington’s Centennial Farms, 25 Years Later. It includes information about all 286 participating farms and focuses on changes to these farms and our state’s agricultural industry over the last 25 years.

Cover of Centennial Farms publication
The Overview chapter and the first of eight regional chapters are now available on the WSDA website. The rest of the regional chapters will go online in the coming weeks.

I was a member of the small team that carried out the original Centennial Farms project and have led the 2014 project. I feel privileged to be connected with Washington agriculture all these years through my work at WSDA and to have had the opportunity to reconnect with farm families who have been part of our state’s history and agriculture industry for more than 125 years.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Washington as rescue dog magnet state

Joe Baker, DVM
Washington State Veterinarian

Looking to spend time with a loving rescue dog, perhaps as a long-promised gift to yourself or family this holiday season? If a rescue dog is on your gift list, be sure you know its health history to protect other pets and loved ones.

Rescue dogs come here by the hundreds from California, Texas and other states. Some even come from as far away as Mexico, Afghanistan, South Korea and other countries.

The rules require that animal transporters and importers have paperwork demonstrating that the dogs have been seen by a veterinarian and have the appropriate shots and tests. Washington also requires certificates of veterinary inspection. This isn’t just meaningless paperwork, but an important way to increase confidence that these new pets aren’t carrying diseases like heartworm, parvo virus or rabies. These diseases can make your pets uncomfortable, ill or even kill them.

So what are our state’s rules?
  • Dogs entering Washington need a certificate of veterinary inspection certifying a dog is current on rabies vaccination. State law also requires that the dog did not come from an area under quarantine for rabies. Dogs less than 90 days old do not need a rabies vaccination.
  • Dogs six months or older must test negative for heartworm or be currently on medicine to address heartworm issues.
  • There is a fine of $205 if a person transports animals into Washington without valid health certificates, permits or other documents required by law.
Why this matters - documented problems

We have had some problems with imported dogs, including one from Iran. A veterinarian contacted us earlier this year about the dog, believing it did not receive the proper vaccinations described in import documents. Paperwork showed it had received rabies and distemper shots, but the puppy looked too young to actually receive the rabies vaccination. The puppy didn’t show signs of illness, but the issue of illegal import documentation is suspected both by the WSDA and private veterinary staff. Ultimately we closed the case because we were unable to determine the parties involved.

Another case was brought to our attention by a public health officer with the Centers for Disease Control at Sea-Tac Airport. He was following up on a five-dog import coming in from Afghanistan and had issues with the paperwork. The records did not reflect whether the dogs were tested for heartworm. The test is required by our state law. In this case, the rescue group, Puppy Rescue Mission, was very cooperative. The importer worked with a local veterinarian and the heartworm testing was completed.

Why is WSDA reaching out to dog rescuers?

We know some stumbling blocks for transporters include the fact that the dog’s original owners may not be able to afford the costs of tests or know our regulations meant to protect animals.

The majority of rescuers are legitimate and are following the rules. When rules or laws are ignored, it creates a health risk to other pets. And unfortunately, a diseased dog that goes undetected can bring sadness and undue hardship to its new family needlessly.

Tips for dog adopters

So how can you protect loved pets in our state? If you plan on adopting a rescue dog, follow these tips:
  • If you’re adopting a dog from out of state, especially from a foreign country, ask to see its travel and vaccination documents.
  • Get as much information as possible about the dog’s prior ownership and history.
  • Research the dog rescue group that you’re adopting from and talk to others that have adopted from the rescue operation.
  • If possible, keep your newly adopted dog from other dogs in your household for two weeks.

Most of my work at WSDA centers on protecting dairy and beef cattle, small livestock, poultry and horses. However, I’ve devoted my career as a veterinarian to helping nearly all animals. I like nothing more than to see a happy, healthy animal in a good home. That’s why these rules are important – they help assure that the animal you adopt is healthy and protects pets for everyone else. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Federal grants available for multi-state specialty crop projects

WSDA specialty crop grant administrator

The federal Specialty Crop Multi-State Program (SCMP) competitively awards grant funds to state agriculture departments to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Washington state is the nation’s second-largest grower of specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, horticulture and nursery crops.

SCMP is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It funds collaborative, multi-state projects that address these regional or national specialty crop issues:
  • Food safety
  • Plant pests and disease
  • Research
  • Crop-specific projects addressing common issues
  • Marketing and promotion

 Washington is one of 18 states accepting applications from industry organizations, associations, or other state departments for these grants. All SCMP proposals must have at least two partners substantially involved in the project, and partners must be located in different states.

How to apply

If you have a project to propose for funding, submit an application by the deadline of 8:59 p.m. (PST), Dec. 15, 2015, to:  SCMP@agr.wa.gov.  Be sure to follow the submittal guidelines in USDA’s Request for Applications and additional applicant guidance, which can be found on the SCMP How to Apply page.  

WSDA will screen proposals to make sure they’re complete and meet requirements, and then submit applications to USDA for consideration.

For more information about this grant funding opportunity:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It’s already Christmas, if you’re a tree

By Mike Louisell
Communications Office

Kids might not be counting down the days before Christmas yet. But for state export inspectors, November means Christmas tree season. Frank Curtin and Scott Brooks from WSDA’s Plant Services Program recently inspected a shipment of trees from Snowshoe Evergreen in Orting.

Curtin said about 2,800 trees were shipped to Mexico.
“It was pretty cool because they were using a helicopter to fly the trees to the loading area,” he said. “The trees were then mechanically shaken for about 20 seconds, a requirement for export to Mexico. Then trees are stacked, bailed and loaded into trucks.”


See the video Curtin shot of flying trees, below

Washington is the fourth largest producer of Christmas trees in the U.S. Many of those trees end up in Hawaii, California, Canada, Mexico, Asia or military bases worldwide.

Christmas trees bound for export must be inspected by WSDA. Overseas customers don’t want any dangerous pests or diseases hitchhiking on our trees. Inspections begin well before the holidays approach. 

video

Monday, November 9, 2015

New website helps military veterans get on the farm

Brent Barnes, Pesticide Management Division

For some of us military veterans, returning to civilian life is a transition that requires a little help.

Brent Barnes is assistant director
of WSDA's
Pesticide Management Division
Before I left the U.S. Army, I had the chance to participate in a wonderful transition program called Northwest Edge that helps veterans enter Washington State and federal employment. This led to a Washington State Veterans Fellowship, a number of informational interviews and job shadowing opportunities and, finally to the position I currently fill, for which I am very grateful.

But not every veteran wants to work for the state government. Some want to farm.

WSDA had been hearing about efforts around the country to help veterans transition into agriculture. We would occasionally get calls for information about organizations involved in this type of work.

While there was interest in sharing this information, most websites I found focused on recruiting veterans for vacant agency positions or linking to benefits available to veterans based on their honorable service. I believed what WSDA needed was a web resource for those who wanted to become farmers, ranchers, or find another way to enter the industry that we support.

The result is www.agr.wa.gov/aginwa/veterans - a website sharing links for a range of resources that might be useful to a military veteran seeking a future in agriculture.


Creating this website is one result of WSDA’s interest and intent to help veterans.

We can now provide an online resource that I hope will serve as a clearinghouse for subjects such as assistance for beginning farmers, small farm loans and grants, education, ecotherapy and mentorships.


I hope this small effort will help those who want to enter the agriculture industry, whether in Washington or anywhere transitioning service members relocate. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Safe pesticide use, growing safe foods stressed in new WSDA contracts

Mike Louisell
Communications Office

A federal contract to train more farm laborers to safely apply pesticides and another project aimed to improve good agricultural practices at farms growing specialty crops were awarded to WSDA recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the two projects as part of its annual specialty crop block grant efforts to support primarily fruit and vegetable growers.

Ofelio Borges, WSDA’s technical services and education program manager in Yakima,
Assessing air speed and direction of pesticides with an airblast sprayer
will direct a $240,000 grant to train workers to safely handle and apply pesticides. 


WSDA has long been recognized for its Farmworker Pesticide Education Program, but there always has been a waiting list to attend workshops. 

The USDA grant will allow us to increase the number of workshops for hands-on handler and sprayer application equipment best management practices. Course dates are generally available early each year. They fill quickly!

WSDA plans to hire another trainer and buy equipment, including an air-blast sprayer and trailer and a vertical patternator, which measures the distribution of pesticides. Applicators will learn how to manipulate wind speed/volume and direction and properly calibrate equipment to make sure pesticides fall on target.

The demand for training continues to grow. This contract is welcomed by a host of industry groups, including the Washington Growers League, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association and Washington Friends of Farms & Forests.

Questions: Contact Ofelio Borges at oborges@agr.wa.gov or (509) 249-6939.

Outreach efforts for producing safe foods
Tricia Kovacs, WSDA’s lead for Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School efforts, is the project manager for a $249,000 USDA grant. Her team will launch Part II of the Bridging the GAPs project, designed to help fruit and vegetable growers understand and obtain voluntary certification for USDA Good Agricultural Practices on their farms. Many food buyers require GAP certification.

The funding extends the initial Bridging the GAPs project, also funded by a WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, that helped make food safety planning, implementation and certification more accessible. That grant resulted in the development of the Bridging the GAPs Farm Guide.

Now, over the next 2.5 years, WSDA will continue to conduct on-farm food safety workshops, provide technical assistance and act as a resource for food safety best practices and regulations, including information on FDA Produce Safety Rules.

WSDA workshop on Good Agricultural Practices
The project team will seek farmers who have been through a successful GAP audit and are willing to share their experience with others preparing for certification.

The new round of Bridging the GAPs workshop series started in late October at Viva Farms and Skagit Valley College in partnership with Washington State University extension offices. The event involved a farm food safety tour, live demonstrations, Q&A with WSDA auditor staff and technical assistance on how to write a food safety plan. The event received an extensive writeup by long-time agriculture and food safety writer Cookson Beecher in the Food Safety News.

Questions? Contact Karen Ullmann at kullmann@agr.wa.gov or 256-6151. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brand owners--be on lookout for WSDA letter in November

By Mike Louisell

More than 6,000 brand holders will receive notices starting this week reminding livestock owners it’s time to renew their brands. Current livestock brands expire on Dec. 31.

Every four years WSDA renews brands and updates its popular brand book, a large volume showing brands that often have been in families for decades. The brands, featuring quarter circles, anchors, channel irons and a host of other symbols, show ownership of the animal and deter theft.

It’s been said that a brand is your livestock’s best return address, comparable to the title you carry in your vehicle to prove ownership. That is because brands are unique to specific ranches and other properties and the families that own them.

Brands not renewed can be re-recorded after a one-year holding period. WSDA typically advertises available brand designs in the “Ketch Pen,” published by the Washington Cattlemen’s and Cattlewomen’s Association.

The cost to renew your brand is $120, good for four years. Payment can be made with check, money order or credit card. Go to www.agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/Livestock or call (360) 902-1855 for more information on livestock brands.

Pre-order your 2016 Brand Book now

Take advantage and pre-order a copy of the 2016 Brand Book when you renew your brand. The book will be available next summer, but supplies will be limited for those who do not pre-order. Costs are $25 for a printed copy or $10 for the e-book on CD-ROM.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Tour of Lincoln County marijuana farm draws connections with WSDA

Erik Johansen
Pesticide Management Division

On a sunny September morning, I met with Tai Saito at Buddy Boy Farms, a marijuana farm located north of Reardan in Lincoln County. Tai is the warehouse manager at Buddy Boy.

I’d been helping answer some of Tai’s questions about what pesticides are allowed for use on marijuana. I’ve worked on developing criteria for these allowable pesticides and consulting with this new industry since legal recreational marijuana production and use was approved by Washington voters in 2012.

Tai let me stop by to see the farm and learn more about their operation. I met the farm owner, Steve Walser, and his daughter Galadriel, who were very open and welcoming.

In the outdoor growing area, I saw several different varieties of marijuana plants. The biggest was over ten feet tall. Steve also showed me some shorter varieties, including one with purple coloration. The plants were drip irrigated and looked very healthy.


Steve said they are growing about 20 varieties of marijuana, and they anticipate a good harvest this year. Last year they grew about 75 varieties, and had selected varieties best suited to their operation.

Steve’s enthusiasm was infectious – he encouraged me to smell each variety. It reminded me of visiting hop farms in Central Washington. The aroma of some varieties of marijuana buds is similar to hops. We toured several greenhouses full of healthy looking plants. A nursery of young marijuana plants will replace the plants ready for harvest.

In a packaging room were scales that had been certified by the WSDA Weights and Measures Program. Steve and Tai praised the Weights and Measures inspector, saying he had provided several helpful suggestions.


It was really helpful for me to see this farm, and gain a better understanding of how WSDA is working with marijuana growers and processors. See our Marijuana and Hemp Information Web page to learn more about WSDA’s role. Along with providing information on allowable pesticides and certifying scales, we inspect processing facilities making marijuana-infused edibles.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Selling pesticides online in Washington State

Catherine Bowman
Pesticide Management Compliance

Are you or do you want to distribute, sell, barter, or supply pesticides online in Washington State? If yes, read on. Here’s what you should know. 

First, you need a Pesticide Dealer license if you’re distributing any pesticides in Washington other than those for “home and garden use only” an actual legal definition determined by WSDA.

Second, a Pesticide Dealer may only distribute pesticides in Washington that are registered with WSDA and it’s the Pesticide Dealer’s responsibility to make sure products offered for sale in our state are registered.

Finally, to buy what are known as Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) as defined by the federal government or the state, you must be certified, or licensed, by WSDA. 

Maintaining this license requires you to keep sales records for pesticides, except, once again, those classified by WSDA as being for “home and garden use only.” These records must be maintained for seven years. You can learn more about recordkeeping on our website. 

What is a pesticide? 

Pesticides include, but are not limited to:
  • Any substance or mix of substances intended to prevent, destroy, control, repel, or mitigate any insect, rodent, snail, slug, fungus, weed, and any other form of plant, animal life or virus. The exceptions are viruses in people or in an animal that’s already a pest . 
  • Any substance or mix of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant, something inducing dryness.
  • Any spray adjuvant, which is a substance added to a spray tank to improve pesticide performance.
See our website for a list of pesticide examples at Selling Pesticides Online.

Be familiar with legal requirements for doing business in Washington State. Most companies, including out-of-state businesses, need some type of business registration or licensing through the State Department of Revenue’s (DOR) Business Licensing Service.  For more information, visit DOR’s Doing business page. 

If you are distributing pesticide products other than for home and garden use, you will need to complete the Agricultural Addendum to become licensed as a Pesticide Dealer

For the answer to “Which pesticides in the state of Washington require a license to purchase and apply them?” see Selling Pesticides Online under that question heading. 

With questions regarding the Business License or Pesticide Dealer licenses, contact DOR’s Business Licensing Service at 800-451-7985.  

Questions? 

Give WSDA a call at 877-301-4555. From the menu options, select: 
  • “Licensing” for questions about pesticide licensing. 
  • “Laws” for questions about recordkeeping or distribution of RUPs.
  • “Registration” for questions about registration of pesticides and classification as home and garden use only.

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

STAR-certified schools practice sustainable pest management

Juliann Barta
EPA Region 10*

What do control methods for discouraging pests (i.e. bugs and such) have to do with schools? Four school districts were recently recognized at a Seattle event for their sustainable pest management practices.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a common sense approach to managing pests that focuses on preventing the conditions that encourage them. On Oct. 1, Washington State University Extension convened a school IPM event that was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through a partnership with WSDA. 
Speakers and school district representatives at the
IPM school event on Oct. 1, 2015

Carrie Foss, WSU’s Urban IPM director, along with Dr. Thomas Green, president of the IPM Institute of North America, evaluated and recognized the school districts of Kelso, Mukilteo, Lake Washington and Federal Way Public Schools for receiving IPM Institute of North America STAR certification. 

Other districts in Washington noted for their IPM certification include Bellevue, Marysville, Colville, Pasco, Walla Walla, South Kitsap, North Thurston, and Vancouver Public Schools.

Dr. Green spoke at the event and talked about the benefits of IPM for schools. These include reducing the risk of pests and pesticide exposure, creating a healthier school environment for our children, and saving schools money in treatment and energy costs.   

Another speaker, Jim Jones, EPA's chief of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said everyone has a role, from the federal government to school district staff, to make IPM a widespread practice. 

WSDA is on the Urban Pesticide Education Strategy Team, a group of state organizations that address urban pesticide issues in Washington. Visit www.schoolipm.wsu.edu to learn more about the team and school IPM resources

*Editor's note: EPA Region 10 submitted this post as a partner collaborating with WSDA to support IPM practices.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Director's statement on reauthorization of the Grain Standards Act

Derek Sandison
Director of WSDA 

I am gratified to learn that President Obama has signed the reauthorization of the U.S. Grain Standards Act, without which WSDA’s Grain Inspection Program would not be able to continue. I want to thank both the President and our leaders in Congress for acting before the authorization expired.

An inspector at WSDA's
Spokane grain inspection
office
Washington has a robust wheat industry which depends upon reliable and credible inspections that ensure product quality and market confidence. WSDA’s Grain Inspection Program offers this, providing high quality, third-party inspections of grain for both domestic and export markets. The reauthorization of the Act ensures that this service will continue.

But reauthorization of the Act means more than the continuity of business for WSDA. It also means that domestic grain inspection services can continue in 45 other states across the country.

I recognize the importance of the uninterrupted movement of grain for both domestic and export markets, and I'm pleased that the Act as reauthorized provides additional measures to support consistent inspection services without interruption.

I want to thank all of those who worked so hard to get this important piece of legislation approved. We look forward to continuing to provide excellent service to the grain industry.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Washington State Fair opportunity to ‘tell our story’

Communications Office

In the age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, is a booth at a fair or trade show still relevant for government agencies to reach the public and stay connected? While many choose social media to learn what’s happening, the WSDA booth at this year’s Washington State Fair in Puyallup presented another way of sharing information about our programs that support agriculture and a sound environment.

Volunteers from many WSDA programs talked with fairgoers about the threat of gypsy moth, ways to protect bees, and how large agriculture is in the Evergreen State. It was a perfect setting for these topics, situated as we were in the Ag-Hort/Floral Tent, among giant pumpkins, gorgeous flowers and artfully-constructed displays presented by Washington State Grange members.

Rickie Lehto and Jeff Britt at booth
“The majority of visitors I met were interested in the noxious weed materials and our board reflecting the different commodities throughout the state,” said Amber Robertson, Human Resource consultant and agency recruiter. “I thought our booth was very well done and had a variety of different reference materials.”

Director Derek Sandison staffs the booth.
A USDA booth adjacent to ours stressed the importance of keeping various pest insects, plant diseases and animal health threats contained. In that regard, both USDA and WSDA had information about avian influenza and how to “spread the word, protect your birds” with information for bird owners, consumers and veterinarians.

WSDA field veterinarians have been visiting various fairs across the state to test poultry and other birds for avian influenza and other diseases, even fairs that have opted out of testing in the past.

Tacoma visitor at fair since 1934!
WSDA also showed its support for 4-H and FFA. WSDA fairs program coordinator Henri Gonzales accompanied Fairs Commissioner Debbie Adolphsen to present ribbons. The commissioner evaluated the youth organizations for their skills in grooming animals, keeping stalls and pens clean and decorated, their showmanship and ability to discuss their projects.

“We met so many good kids dedicated to their animals and really enjoyed the beef exhibitors for being so friendly and helpful,” Henri said.

Many visitors told us they have been to the fair numerous  times over the years. One woman from Tacoma told us she has come to the fair every year since 1934. Here's hoping she stops by our booth again next year. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Avian influenza – spread the word, protect your birds

Dr. Joe Baker

Fall is coming and with it a renewed risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. But first, some background on why this is such a serious cause for concern.

In the fall of 2014, Washington became the first state to have flocks infected with highly-pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. When the outbreak was over, four small, non-commercial poultry flocks, a game bird farm and a falconry were all affected.

None of our large commercial poultry operations became infected, but they still suffered as a result of the actions required in response to the infected flocks. The ability of the commercial operations to export poultry and poultry products was hampered. In one case, tens of thousands of day-old chicks were destroyed because Canada refused them entry after we established our first quarantine zone around two small, non-commercial flocks in Benton County.

As this illustrates, all poultry owners in Washington are part of the poultry industry, and disease in even small flocks can directly or indirectly affect flocks large and small throughout the state. It is vital that all poultry owners recognize this and take the steps to protect their birds and others, too.

The cases of avian influenza in Washington and neighboring states in the fall were the tip of what turned out to be an iceberg of historic proportions, as highly pathogenic avian influenza found its way into commercial turkey and layer operations in the Midwest, creating a massive animal disease outbreak and control response. Federal costs alone are expected to reach a billion dollars while the disease and depopulation led to the loss of more than 10 percent of our nation’s layer hen inventory and more than 7 percent of our turkey inventory. It will take at least two years for the poultry industry to recover and some producers will be put out of business permanently.

Risk returns with migration cycle

The risk that avian influenza will return to our state rides on the wings of migratory waterfowl that have once again begun to arrive from northern latitudes to spend the winter here. Unfortunately, these waterfowl species tend to carry avian influenza viruses with no ill effects, and can spread the disease to other susceptible birds through their droppings. Particularly vulnerable are the small hobby, exhibition, layer and organic flocks scattered all over our state, where the birds are allowed to spend significant time outside. 
Disinfectant for footgear outside
a bird flu town hall meeting.

The Animal Services Division of WSDA is trying to raise awareness of the threat HPAI poses to all poultry, and the biosecurity measures that flock owners should be putting in place to help protect their birds from the disease. Check out our updated website at agr.wa.gov/birdflu for information to help bird owners, no matter how large or small your flock.

There is no vaccine currently authorized for birds and there is no treatment for the disease, so flocks hit with HPAI must be euthanized in order to prevent the virus spreading. That is why prevention through good biosecurity is so important.

I encourage you to visit our webpage, look through the materials and formulate YOUR plan for protecting your birds this fall and winter. As ever, if you have questions or need help, you can also email ahealth@agr.wa.gov or call 800-606-3056.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Following an apple’s journey into the box

Kathy Davis
Communications Office

When you grab that pretty, shiny apple on the store shelf, you may not imagine the journey it’s taken to get there. In the packing house alone, apples travel a path that illustrates modern agricultural practices.

Apples aren’t just a Washington icon, like salmon, coffee and airplanes. They’re also a $2 billion industry producing millions of apples each year. Those apples all need to be harvested, sorted, packed and inspected.  


Last month I got an eye-opening education when I toured apple and potato packing facilities with Ken Tuttle, supervisor of WSDA’s Quincy Fruit and Vegetable Inspection office. As primarily a food consumer who’s relatively new to the agricultural industry, I was struck by the movement of the process.

From the large wooden bins in which the apples arrive in the warehouse, their first step is a bath. Each bin is lifted mechanically onto a skid that lowers it into a pool of water to wash the apples. With nose close, you can smell the chlorine (think swimming pool) that sanitizes.

Drifting and spinning

The water floats the fruit out of their field bins, becoming a river of apples drifting off on their way. They’re dried by spinning on soft, covered rollers and being heated in an enclosed metal container. 

Why are store apples so shiny? Because they’re sprayed with a fine mist of food grade wax.

They roll along, randomly splitting off onto three belts that run past workers who visually check for defective fruit. Along with experienced human eyes, technology helps sort. The apples are also whisked into a computerized machine where a camera and scale determines size and grade.

Placement onto trays and into boxes is largely, but not totally, automated. Humans help make sure each round fruit is properly positioned. Colorful shipping boxes are stacked into tall, wide blocks on pallets. Stacks await shipment to such destinations as Portland, Brooklyn and China.


Storing year-round

Apple harvesting occurs over a relatively short period, yet demand is year-round. So some of the crop is stored in a controlled environment to maintain freshness and allow for later packing.

These rooms look like over-sized racket ball courts with those big wooden bins of apples piled to the ceiling. Along with being chilled, the oxygen level is reduced in the room. Before workers enter, the atmosphere is adjusted to replace life-sustaining oxygen.

These packing facilities are daily working environments for our WSDA fruit and vegetable inspectors. For someone who resides in a cubicle most days, it was an eye-popping new world. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tips for hiring pest control professionals

Joel Kangiser

WSDA is getting reports that someone claiming to be a pest control professional is canvassing neighborhoods in Kitsap County, using high pressure sales tactics to sell pest treatments that could be unnecessary and asking for bank account information from the people he has contacted.

This person may represent a legitimate business; we don’t know. Here’s our advice -- don’t be pressured into buying a pest control service before you’re ready. Pests that can attack your home, such as carpenter ants and termites, are rarely a problem requiring immediate resolution. So you should have time to get other bids and do your own research.

Here are three tips from WSDA to consider before hiring a pest control professional:

  • Thoroughly check out the person or business before providing any personal information or purchasing any service. 
  • Get multiple estimates if you need pest control work done.
  • Pest control companies and their employees who apply pesticides must be licensed by WSDA, so visit WSDA’s pesticide license database or call the WSDA licensing office at (360) 902-1937 to verify that a business or individual is properly licensed.
Finally, you can always call your local Better Business Bureau or the Washington State Pest Management Association, a private industry association, at 1- (800) 253-3836 to get more information about a particular company.

Pests can be a serious problem, but don’t let anyone  push you into paying for services or signing a contract before you are fully confident and comfortable with the company and the service they propose to provide.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Promoting Washington agriculture overseas

Communications Office

In a small sandwich shop on a narrow Tokyo street, the cashiers and servers now sport T-shirts that say “I love Washington fries,” mementos of a recent afternoon when a few visitors dropped by to share some spuds with surprised customers expecting nothing more than a sandwich.
Gov. Jay Inslee hands out free fries in Tokyo.

The visitors included Gov. Jay Inslee, WSDA Director Derek Sandison, and members of the state’s Potato Commission, all in Tokyo as part of a 9-day trade mission that wrapped up Sept.5. The Governor-led trade mission made visits to Seoul, South Korea, Kobe, Japan and Tokyo. While other industries were also being promoted, the ag delegation focused on blueberries, potatoes, and wine.

Korea and Japan are important countries for Washington agriculture. Japan is the state’s leading market for agricultural exports and Korea the 5th largest market. Led by Director Sandison, the ag delegates visited the leaders of several key businesses in both countries that import or process Washington agricultural products for local consumers, expressing their appreciation for the trade that is already taking place and interest in greater trade to come.

Again and again, delegates heard the value that consumers place on Washington agricultural products, from the cherries that fly off the shelves of the busy Costco Korea when they’re in season, to the chipping potatoes that can’t keep up with demand of Japanese potato chip processors. Delegates also gleaned information that can help inform marketing decisions later. 
Honey butter chips, a popular
Korean snackfood.

One example, consumers in Korea were recently in a frenzy for a potato chip company's  honey butter flavored chips, with lines for the chips so long, some stores placed two-bag limits on customers. The craze has increased demand for chipping potatoes as competing companies looked for their own flavor angle, and this boost in demand could spell benefits for Washington potatoes in the future. 

The team also met with government officials in both countries to raise market access issues. For blueberries, the goal was pressing for access to South Korea. Fresh Oregon blueberries were allowed into the country beginning in 2012, but Washington is still waiting for similar access.

Frozen blueberries, Costco Korea
In Japan, Washington potatoes are permitted only for part of the year. Washington potato farmers, as well as food processors in Japan, would like year-round access for our spuds.

Dancers at a reception for the
Washington State delegation
Government led trade missions can open doors for delegates that might not be available to them otherwise, providing them a chance to raise trade concerns at the highest levels. The trips also provide opportunities for potential buyers to meet producers and importers, making the kinds of connections that can translate into lucrative business relationships later.

Washington exports about 30 percent of its agricultural products, so keeping markets open and importers happy is important. Trade missions can be an important way to do this. You can track future trade missions, and visits from our overseas customers, at the WSDA International Marketing Program webpage, where all such events are listed. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Washington prevails in “Fighting Hunger” food drive competition

Kim Eads

“Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation” was again the theme of this year’s friendly competition between the Washington State Department of Agriculture and our Oregon Department of Agriculture counterparts.

The two departments together collected more than 190,000 pounds of donated food, easily surpassing the 85,000 pounds donated in 2014.

Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger was developed three years ago as a partnership between the dairy industry, supermarkets, food banks and departments of agriculture in Washington and Oregon. The partnership increases awareness of the challenges families face when children who typically rely on school lunches are out of the classroom for the summer.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison, center, displays the food drive trophy. 
All foods donated to this drive benefit Washington and Oregon residents in need.


The WSDA Food Assistance Program thanks all our agency co-workers across the state who helped in this effort, and everyone who donated.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Grain inspection shifts to environmentally friendly testing

Communications

Our Grain Inspection Program is moving toward a grain testing method that does not use hazardous materials. If the pilot project using water-based testing kits shows consistent results, the new method will have benefits for the environment and worker safety.
Craig Hoyt testing grain at
WSDA Longview office. 

WSDA provides important services to Washington’s grain producers and exporters. For instance, foreign buyers require testing for mycotoxins as a contract requirement. Most of this testing has been done with kits that include methanol.

The presence of methanol makes the program a generator of hazardous material under state and federal regulations for storage and disposal. Methanol is flammable and can produce health effects in people exposed to it.

Piloting water-based testing

As the first step in transitioning away from chemical-based testing, the southwest regional grain office – which includes Vancouver, Longview and Kalama – is piloting water-based kits. Manager Philip Garcia said it’s important to conduct side-by-side comparisons for solid data showing consistent test results.

“We want to be sure our customer’s operations are not disrupted and the testing results are accurate and repeatable,” Garcia said.

Program managers anticipate several advantages to the new process. Virtually eliminating handling and disposing of a hazardous substance would be better for the environment and for program staff by reducing exposure.

Mycotoxins are created by molds that affect the quality of grains. Inspection services monitor for mycotoxins to assure that contaminated grain products do not enter the food supply chain.

Protecting the food supply, maintaining high quality customer service and being good environmental stewards are the goals of this project. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Don't overlook value of West Nile virus shots for your horses

Washington State Veterinarian

One week ago the count of horses confirmed with West Nile virus in our state totaled 10 cases. As of Wednesday, it has climbed to 18 cases.

The first case was reported in late July in Benton County, and since then there have been cases reported in six more counties, including Adams, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln and Yakima counties. The south-central portion of our state has historically been where most of the West Nile virus infections are documented each year. After experiencing a significant number of cases in the region in 2008 and 2009, there had been relatively few cases in horses reported in 2010-2014. Five cases were reported in 2014.
Photo: Erin Danzer

Unfortunately, none of the horses reported this year had current booster shots for West Nile, and many of them had never received any vaccination for the disease. After several consecutive years with few or no cases, horse owners may have been lulled into thinking that vaccinations for West Nile virus did not have to be included in their horse’s annual shots. In one case the owner had reportedly been advised by their trainer that vaccinations in horses were a waste of time.

About half of the virus-infected horses reported this year in our state have either succumbed to the disease or have been euthanized. Statistically, 40 percent of those horses that recover will be likely to have long-lasting if not permanent neurological deficits. 

I would like to make a personal plea to all horse owners in Washington to include a West Nile virus shot as a core vaccine in your horse’s vaccination schedule.  The American Association of Equine Practitioners considers the core vaccinations for horses to be eastern/western equine encephalitis, tetanus, rabies and West Nile virus.

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines core vaccinations as those “that protect from diseases that are endemic to a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease. Core vaccines have clearly demonstrated efficacy and safety, and thus exhibit a high enough level of patient benefit and low enough level of risk to justify their use in the majority of patients.”

Typically Washington’s mosquito season lasts until freezing temperatures return in the fall. If you have a horse that has been given West Nile virus vaccine in the past, it is not too late to give it a booster. Boostering a previously vaccinated horse usually induces a rapid rise in immune levels. If you have never vaccinated your horse in the past, it will take two shots about a month apart to establish immunity.  So you could still manage to protect your horse for the last few weeks of this year’s mosquito season if you start now!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Help for farmers, ranchers affected by massive wildfires

Mike Louisell
Communications 

Wildfires burning across Washington have been devastating, particularly in Eastern Washington. Lives have been lost, families displaced and homes destroyed. The losses in agriculture continue to mount with reports of packing houses, chicken coops, barns and fencing destroyed, livestock lost or killed, and pasture and crops burned.

Right now, WSDA's role in responding to these fires is far more limited than other agencies directly engaged. But we can, at least, share information on resources available for those in agriculture affected by the fires.

Topping the list are federal agency assistance programs, such as the USDA's Farm Service Agency, which has a Livestock Indemnity Program to help those who have lost livestock due to the wildfires.

USDA Rural Development also has resources for agriculture, listed on the USDA Fire Recovery Assistance webpage, prepared by the State Food and Ag Council's Outreach Committee. The webpage lists programs that are available with financial and technical assistance, including recovery expertise from Washington State University Extension.

On the state side, Gov. Jay Inslee's office has created this webpage of wildfire resources with information on Red Cross shelters, state agency assistance programs and even opportunities for those wishing to volunteer locally. If you're on social media, Gov. Inslee's office is sharing the most up-to-date information on Twitter with the hashtag #WAwildfire.

Most likely, WSDA's role in the future will be in supporting the agricultural community as events transition to a recovery phase. Once the fires subside and farmers, food processors and those with livestock operations evaluate the extent of their losses, WSDA may be called upon to help directly with services.

For now, like all others in Washington state, we can only watch the courageous crews fighting these wildfires and work to support those affected by them.