Thursday, June 10, 2021

WSDA offering free 840 RFID tags to new and renewing ECTR users

Jodi Jones
Animal Services Division

What is an inexpensive, electronic, and convenient alternative to in-person brand inspection?  The Electronic Cattle Transaction Reporting System – otherwise known as ECTR.

WSDA offers Washington ranchers and dairy owners an alternative way to meet brand inspection requirements through self-reporting of cattle sales and out-of-state cattle movement through our ECTR system. ECTR meets the critical dual objectives of both livestock identification and animal disease traceability by electronically capturing proof of ownership, registered brand recordings, and official individual identification. 

To make this process even more affordable, WSDA is offering free official 840 RFID tags to both new registrants and current users that renew their license!

840 RFID tag
840 RFID tag

New ECTR users

Producers who register for ECTR are eligible for free official 840 RFID tags:

  • 40 tags and one RFID tag applicator for producers with herds of 50 head or less.
  • 100 tags and one RFID tag applicator for producers with herds of more than 50 head.

Current ECTR users

Current users that choose to renew their ECTR license will receive additional free official 840 RFID tags.

  • The number of tags awarded will be based on the volume of cattle they recorded in ECTR the year prior. For example, if you recorded 100 head of cattle last year in ECTR, you will receive 100 tags.
  • Current ECTR users that are already receiving free official RFID tags from our Animal Disease Traceability program will not be eligible for free tags.

Getting your free tags

To get your free tags, first register for or renew your ECTR license. If this is your first time registering, we will automatically send your tags. If you renewed, simply email ectr@agr.wa.gov and let us know you want the promotion tags.

For more information about ECTR, please visit our ECTR webpage at or call (360) 902-1855.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Washington Soil Health Initiative: Protecting the future of agriculture in Washington

Jadey Ryan
WSDA environmental specialist

One of our partners in the field taking soil samples.
Healthy soil is the key to success in farming. With healthy soil, farms are more successful, our environment is cleaner, and Washington can keep growing nutritious food for generations to come. With more than 300 different crops in the state, healthy soil looks different from place to place and from crop to crop. The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Assessment Section (NRAS) partnered with Washington State University (WSU) to launch a baseline assessment of soil health across Washington. This research will help us better understand the role of soil health in our diverse agricultural landscape.

The beginning of the Washington Soil Health Initiative

In the fall of 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) awarded a $500,000 specialty crop block grant to NRAS that funded a soil health survey project in partnership with WSU. Then in the spring of 2020, the state Legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 6306 that created the Washington Soil Health Initiative, which provided $200,000 of additional funding to NRAS for more soil health research and outreach. 

Partnerships are key

The Soil Health Initiative aims to identify and promote soil health stewardship practices that are grounded in sound science and promote economic prosperity for farmers. 

Soil sampling kits
prepared to send off.

This soil health research brings together many partners including NRAS, WSU, Washington State Conservation Commission, the non-profit Soil Health Institute, 11 conservation districts throughout Central and Eastern Washington, three soil health laboratories, and all of the participating farmers.

NRAS and WSU work with the conservation districts to find farmers who are willing to provide management histories and volunteer their fields for soil sampling. Once fields are identified, soil samples are collected and sent to SoilTest Farm Consultants, Inc., Dr. Deirdre Griffin LaHue’s lab at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center, or the Soil Health Lab at Oregon State University.

The original project: Focus on specialty crops

The project that was funded by the specialty crop block grant began in fall 2019 and continues through summer 2022. The goal is to understand the current soil health status and key soil challenges of major specialty crops in Washington. Specialty crops of interest include potato, wine grape, sweet corn, onion, tree fruit, hops, and pulses. 

The project uses a survey approach by sampling sites with similar soil types that farmers identify as their “best” and “worst” fields.  Farmers choose these fields based on their perception of yield, disease pressure, and the need for additional soil amendments such as fertilizer or lime. Samples taken from these sites are tested for a variety of chemical, physical, and biological soil health indicators, which collectively provide a snapshot of overall soil health. Farmers also provide data about their farming practices through a management survey, so that soil health status can be linked with management practices across soil types, crops, and regions.

Project expansion: More crops are included

A close look at the process of soil sampling. 
The Soil Health Initiative provided funding to expand upon the grant project to achieve a broader soil health monitoring program that includes more than just the major specialty crops. With this project expansion, NRAS and WSU can collect soil samples from all crop and grazing lands that currently have or plan to implement conservation management practices. By comparing soil sample results from similar locations that have or have not implemented conservation practices, NRAS and WSU can learn more about which practices are best at improving soil health for the many different crops across Washington.

Additionally, NRAS and WSU are working with the Soil Health Institute to sample from uncultivated sites such as native grasslands or rangeland. Data from these samples will be compared with those from conventionally farmed soil samples of similar soil types to understand how native and perennial grassland soil health differs from that of cultivated soils. 

Outcomes: More data, outreach, and improved soil health 

Participating farmers will receive a personalized soil health report with data and an interpretation of the results. NRAS, WSU, and conservation districts will share the findings from these projects with the agricultural community and the public. 

The Soil Health Initiative brings together stakeholders interested in practices that improve soil health without compromising farmers’ success. The outcomes from these projects are baseline soil health data specific to Washington, better tools to monitor and manage soil health, increased adoption of soil health stewardship practices, and continued engagement from stakeholders and participating farmers. 

Each outcome contributes to improved agricultural viability, farm profitability, nutrition, and environmental function across Washington. If you are interested in participating or have questions, please email our soil scientist for the project, Dani Gelardi, or call 360-791-3903. You can also visit agr.wa.gov/agscience to learn more about NRAS and the Soil Health Initiative. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Cherry season means cherry inspector jobs at WSDA

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

Washington state cherries are a worldwide favorite. The beautiful color, taste, size, and quality are widely known. With cherry season nearing, WSDA is looking for inspectors to join the force for the duration of cherry season (six to eight weeks), but with only a week before training begins, we are not seeing as many applicants as in year’s past.

“We usually get quite a bit more applicants, but this year we just aren’t seeing the numbers we usually do,” commodity inspection manager Robert Newell said.

WSDA typically hires more than 100 inspectors to visit the local warehouses in Brewster, Chelan, Wapato, Wenatchee, Pasco, and Yakima. But this year, several positions are still available with just a week to go before the start of the cherry inspection period.

What a cherry inspector does

Inspectors start training June 1, and over the course of cherry season they visit cherry packing warehouses and inspect the product for quality, color, and other facets.

If you’re a returning inspector, training is a one-day refresher course. For first-timers, this is a three-day endeavor where we will teach you grade and sampling procedures; how to identify defects, what the grade requirements are, how to sample the products, what the cherry crushing process looks like, and how to best communicate with the facility where you are inspecting.

Inspectors also learn  about our inspection documents, how to enter sample information into the computer program, create accurate documents, and issue shipping permits.

In an effort to fill all the needed spots, WSDA has increased wages from $15 an hour to $17.24 an hour.

Once hired, inspectors visit warehouses, sometimes perform a sanitation walkthrough looking for debris such as leaves that may need to be cleared out. But the primary work is to take samples of packed cherry boxes and look for color, grade, size, and condition. Inspectors perform a crush test, checking to see if the cherries are home to fruit flies. Once all the checks are balanced, inspectors record the information and issue shipping permits and other documents that allows our cherry packing facilities to ship the product all over the country and abroad.

Inspectors are expected to produce accurate and quality work, paying attention to detail as they inspect and certify fresh cherries at shipping points for domestic and foreign markets. Making sure the grade and condition of the cherries meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and WSDA.

“By working together with our industry partners, we continue to keep Washington state cherries a sought after product worldwide,” Newell said.

How to qualify

To qualify for this position, you must be at least 18 years old with a valid driver’s license and a GED or high school diploma. The best candidates also have the ability to work cooperatively in a fast-paced team environment and have reliable transportation. If you also have the ability to use good judgment, tact, and withstand stressful situations, this is the job for you.

Some years, there’s also opportunity for frequent overtime pay. Visit www.governmentjobs.com or agr.wa.gov to apply. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Answers to common questions about WSDA's proposed hornet quarantine

Amy Clow
WSDA Pest Program 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is proposing to add all species in the genus Vespa (hornet) to the list of quarantined pests. The rule we are proposing would prohibit live life stages of hornet species from being sold, offered for sale, distributed, or knowingly moved throughout or received within Washington.

The proposal adds restrictions to “infested sites,” defined as all property within 20 meters of a nest containing any live life stage of hornet.

The Black Bellied hornet

WSDA will try to notify occupants or owners when their property is designated as an infested site. Until WSDA determines an area is not infested, people will need to get authorization to enter the area. This is to protect the public and prevent more infestation. The proposed rule would allow WSDA to grant access to an infested site to property owners, occupants, and others.

Some frequently asked questions

If a nest is detected on private property, will the owner or occupant be restricted from accessing or entering their property?

No. Access to property owners and occupants will not be restricted. Restricting access within a 20 meter area around the nest is a precaution to protect public health and safety, prevent further infestation, and ensure the nest is safely removed.

WSDA will remove the nest as soon as possible. Nest removal depends on the situation and factors such as weather, obstructions, and equipment availability. Generally, removal will take no longer than two weeks. 

Will yellowjackets or bald-faced hornets be included in the quarantine?

No. Yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets are not included in the proposed quarantine. Yellowjackets belong to the genus Vespula and Dolichovespula. Bald-faced hornets (Dolichovespula maculata) are a type of yellowjacket and not a true hornet (Vespa).

Why are all hornets being quarantined rather than only Asian giant hornet?

No hornet species are native to Washington State. Any hornet introduced here could upset our state’s ecosystem, such as spreading new pathogens and parasites to native wasps, bees, and yellowjackets. Washington’s suitable habitat for certain hornet species make it more likely they will become established once introduced.

Asian giant hornets on a notebook.
The recent detection of Asian giant hornet caught the attention of Washington state residents, but that’s only one reason for the proposed rule. It’s also needed because other hornet species have been detected in Washington and neighboring British Columbia (Vespa orientalis, Vespa soror, and Vespa crabro).

What risk do hornets actually pose?

Hornets pose a direct and indirect risk to agricultural crops in Washington State. They have been known to feed on fruit such as pears, peaches, plums, grapes, berries, and apples, making the fruit unfit for human consumption. Hornets attack honey bees and native insect populations. Managed honey bees and native insects are important pollinators vital to agricultural production. If hornets were to become established in Washington, our economy and ecology could be severely affected.

Hornets can also pose a risk to human health. The venom in their sting can be toxic. And unlike bees, they can sting repeatedly. A hornet sting can cause substantial pain, as well as tissue damage. In some extremely rare cases, death can also occur. Although hornets don’t generally target people, they can attack when threatened.

Visit agr.wa.gov/hornets for more information on the Asian giant hornet, or the WSDA rulemaking page for information on the proposed hornet quarantine rule.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

All hands on deck: Changing roles around COVID Response

This past year brought challenges for everyone, and while it remains to be seen how COVID-19 and its impacts will continue to affect us, many have found themselves taking on new responsibilities. This was definitely true for the WSDA Rapid Response & Emergency Management Program, where the Washington Food/Feed Rapid Response Team (RRT) resides. 

In any year other than 2020-21, the Rapid Response Team earns its keep by coordinating multi-jurisdictional food and animal feed outbreak responses. For example, in the 2018-19 budget period, the team coordinated responses to nine separate incidents including E.coli illnesses associated with raw milk, detections of listeria and salmonella in raw pet food, and severe winter weather impacts on dairy cattle in central Washington. 

A 2019 training event led by
the Rapid Response Team.

In 2020, the Rapid Response Team assisted in coordinating with its food safety partners on 17 incident responses ranging from Listeria in canned fish, campylobacter illnesses associated with undercooked chicken liver, and assisting with tracing efforts on a national leafy green outbreak. These are all typical for our team, but after 2020, we can add infectious disease response to the running list of the program’s capabilities.

Although routine response work continued, we all had to adapt in 2020 to the needs brought on by the global pandemic, and Washington RRT was no different. 

One of the great opportunities of having a food/feed Rapid Response Team as part of WSDA’s Emergency Management Program is that each side brings its own extensive network of subject matter experts.

These networks overlapped in many ways when tasked with solving, or helping others solve, the various challenges that came with sharing COVID-19 public health guidance, obtaining and distributing personal protective equipment, tracking federal guidance and requirements, and educating and advising others on the state’s vaccine roll-out plan. 

For example, the same emergency managers we typically work with on radiation emergency preparedness or Incident Command System training became involved last year in helping with the statewide COVID-19 response. Despite different roles, we all knew how to reach each other and tap into one another’s resource network to share best practices, learn what had already been done, and coordinate our efforts. 

Knowing who to contact in food safety programs of other states through the national Rapid Response Team network helped expedite COVID-19 guidance for the food processing industry. Having all of these networks already established sped the agency’s public health response.

The Rapid Response Team was also able to help provide more tangible solutions, such as assisting the WSDA Food Safety Program purchase handheld radios so food safety inspectors could continue important inspections and investigations while maintaining social distance measures and following current statewide requirements.

Washington National Guard
helping at a food pantry.
Additionally, the program represents WSDA during all statewide responses where agricultural and natural resources are impacted.  We call this Emergency Support Function 11, or ESF 11, and we’ve been activated for over 13 months through the State Emergency Operations Center.  Add this ESF-11 piece to the program and you get a well-rounded balance of in the trenches work and big-picture coordination. 

The past year gave us the opportunity to work closely with others in the agency to coordinate National Guard placement in food banks, assist with face covering and hand sanitizer distribution to farm workers and food processors, and share expertise in food safety and quality considerations related to stockpiled food to supplement the state’s hunger relief network. 

The work needed to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak illustrated that programs with rapid response teams can not only be boots on the ground, but also effective at coordinating the flow of information and act as key facilitators for an effective public health response.

COVID-19 brought challenges, suffering, and heartache to many, but it provided the opportunity to identify what worked well in our response, and what could be improved. 

While COVID-19 changed a lot of things, the networks of dedicated public health and emergency management professionals continued to work effectively. The interlacing prompted by the challenges of this last year have only made these networks stronger.