Thursday, March 14, 2019

Sharing the science of shellfish

Chris McGann

WSDA Aquaculture Coordinator Laura Butler is working to
support shellfish aquaculture in Washington. 
Aquatic science and problem-solving took center stage at the 26th Conference for Shellfish Growers this week, hosted by Washington Sea Grant.

Scientists, growers, and state and federal agency representatives came together to share research and their experiences surrounding the perplexing lives of shellfish.

Is toxic algae bloom the culprit behind summer shellfish die off?  How can we keep oyster herpes virus out of Northwest waters? Manage ghost shrimp? Cope with ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures?

These were some of the issues panelists explored during the two-day event that took place in the tiny coastal town of Union on lower Hood Canal.

Some answers were clearer than others, and some research findings seemed to raise as many questions as they answered. But for the 167 participants, the event was an opportunity to tap into the expertise of this close-knit, esoteric community to continue seeking solutions.

Where else could you entertain a question like: “Why do some oysters just stop eating?” or “Why do baby geoducks refuse to dig themselves into the sand?”

Biologist Nick Wenzel appreciates the
the opportunity to network with other
aquaculture enthusiasts.
Value of the network

Nick Wenzel is a shellfish biologist with a keen focus on geoducks, a freakishly large clam that boasts a neck more than three feet long and bodies almost double the size of their shells.

Wenzel shared his efforts to try to find out what caused a recent batch of juvenile geoducks to simply refuse to dig in.

He told the audience he wasn’t sure if the problem had to do with something in the water or if it was something more, motivational.

He said the conference and others like it are an important resource, because geoduck farming is such a young industry.

“The best part is the networking,” he said. “The people you meet here have a wealth of information and they are willing to share it.”

WSDA supports aquaculture

In 2018, estimates of Washington state
shellfish exports exceeded $126 million. 
WSDA Aquaculture Coordinator Laura Butler wants to help support that critical network of subject matter experts. She was among the panelists, raising awareness about our agency’s relatively new role in supporting the industry through outreach, marketing and networking.

She said it makes sense for WSDA to play a supporting role as a non-regulatory agency working with this industry.

"There is no doubt that shellfish farmers are farmers," she said. "They are just working in the unique environment of the intertidal zone."

A mystery in a shell

The shellfish industry is important to the economic vitality of many small coastal communities. In 2018, estimates of Washington state shellfish exports exceeded $126 million.

But the industry is built around a highly enigmatic animal.

“Oysters are like an alien life form, they are so different than other animals,” said Washington Sea Grant Aquaculture Specialist Brent Vadopalas. "Genetically they are really bizarre. They are bizarre in almost every way."

For example, Vadopalas explains that the animal kingdom includes species that are male or female and species that are hermaphrodite.

“But the Olympia oyster, our native oyster, it will flip back and forth between male and female within a single season, the same individual,” he said. “Why would it do that? It makes no sense.”

That’s just one of the many mysteries these slippery creatures hold for Vadopalas and other shellfish researchers and growers.

Although there is so much still to learn, we can be certain that as long as clean waters rise and fall over Northwest tidelands, these farmers will be looking for ways to make sure the shellfish harvest continues for generations to come.

For more information about WSDA’s Aquaculture Coordinator activities contact: Laura Butler.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

State Vet: On a mission to make a difference

Chris McGann

Dr. Brian Joseph's service with the Army Reserve Veterinarian
 Corps has taken him to places like Central America.  
State Veterinarian Brian Joseph will deploy overseas with the Army Reserve this month, leaving his duties and responsibilities in the capable hands of other WSDA staff until early fall.

But before he ships out, Dr. Joseph shared his path to enlisting in the Army Reserve’s Veterinarian Corps, the war zones he has found himself in over the past 10 years, and his motivations for service.

Trying to join the Army at 56

It began in October 2007 when the flames of a mammoth wildfire were encroaching on San Diego, where Dr. Joseph had gone to attend a veterinarian conference. He remembers a sense of frustration as he watched the fire raging along highway.

“It occurred to me, as a private veterinarian, there was very little I could do in the case of a humanitarian or natural disaster,” he said.

Man’s best friend

Almost as clearly as the black smoke and helpless feelings are burned into his memory, so too is his recollection of a fine military dog, a Belgian Malinois named Ringo.

Dr. Joseph says he can't walk past a do and not talk
to it. Dogs apparently like talking to him, too. 
Ringo was posted at an Army recruiting booth at the conference.

“I met Ringo and stopped,” Dr. Joseph said. “Because I can’t walk past any dog and not talk to it. It’s impossible.”

During that fateful pause to make acquaintance with Ringo, a recruiter introduced himself and made a pitch that would change the course of the next 12 years of Dr. Joseph’s life.

“As I’m talking to the dog, the recruiter starts talking to me about the humanitarian missions that the Army Veterinary Corps does,” Dr. Joseph said.

“This sounds pretty interesting,” he thought, petting Ringo all the while. “I talked to him for two hours!”

Getting to YES

Dr. Joseph quickly secured his wife’s permission to enlist, but Uncle Sam was not as supportive.

Dr. Joseph was 10 years too old when he first applied and the military rejected his application – several times. But Joseph says he’s terrible at, no.

It took two years and the intervention from none other than Ross Perot, to finally get to yes. In 2009, Dr. Joseph entered boot camp as the oldest veterinarian ever admitted to the Army Reserve.

Seeing the world

Since then, Dr. Joseph has traveled the globe on at least six humanitarian missions. Today he claims the title of oldest veterinarian in the Army’s inventory.

Though the Army’s missions have, by definition, military objectives, Dr.  Joseph say’s his motivations fall more in line with the “winning hearts and minds” category.

His teams helps partner nations with public health, animal health, agriculture, engineering, and rebuilding schools and hospitals. He has helped with livestock husbandry in Guatemala, rabies vaccinations in Belize, and agricultural development in Central Africa.

Dr. Joseph considers it an honor to work with the communities he meets on
his Army Reserve missions.
“My goal is helping people with agriculture and helping their life be better,” he said.

Most memorable experience 

One of Dr. Joseph’s deployments sent him to Djibouti, in East Africa. It has a deep water port that provides a base of operations for many countries. In addition to the U.S. base, there are also British, Italian and Chinese military bases.

The people, Dr. Joseph said, are very poor.

“They’ve got no water, no electricity, little food,” he said.

Conditions were so bad that the livestock were eating “recycled paper.”

With the help of locals, including girls as young as 8 years old, who Dr. Joseph calls “the best goat catchers I’ve ever seen,” they immunized and dewormed about 800 goats as well as some camels and donkeys.

“One of them told our interpreter, ‘This is the first time anyone has ever come and demonstrated that they care,’” he said. “Everybody had come and asked them for information, but they’ve never demonstrated that they care. That’s my role on these missions. I want to know the people and I want to make their life a little better.”

WSDA Animal Services adjustments

In the near future, Dr. Joseph will deploy to Southwest Asia for his last mission. His 10-year waiver expires in September and at the age of 68, he has no plans to try to re-up.

“I like being married,” he said.

While he is gone, the State Veterinarian’s office and WSDA’s Animal Services division will maintain normal operations.

Assistant State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle will serve as Interim State Veterinarian, assuming responsibility for Animal Disease Traceability and Animal Health.

Jodi Jones will take over as WSDA Interim Animal Division Assistant Director with authority over administration, budget, Legislation, the Livestock Identification Program and compliance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

WSDA partners with Oregon and national agriculture group to support women in agriculture

Laura Raymond
WSDA Regional Markets 

A prize of as much as $20,000 is waiting for a woman in the agriculture industry, the top prize in the new Women Farm to Food Business Competition. The competition, which closes Jan. 31, is sponsored by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), and is one way it is promoting a new program to help women in agriculture launch or boost their farm businesses.

Both WSDA and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) are partnering with NASDA in the effort. In addition to the competition, NASDA is launching a new business accelerator program for women and conducting a survey to learn more about the business needs of women in agriculture.

The competition - The 2019 Women Farm to Food Business Competition is open to women-owned food and beverage businesses in Washington and Oregon. Advantage will be given to farm-based businesses that grow their own ingredients and businesses that source their ingredients from Washington or Oregon agricultural producers. Applicants must complete an on-line application and submit a video of 3-minutes or less pitching their business. A $20,000 grand prize will be awarded, as well as a $10,000 prize and two $5,000 prizes.

The business accelerator – Currently under development is the NASDA Women Farm to Food Accelerator Program, scheduled to begin later in the year. It is a 90-day program of training, skill building and networking tailored to the needs of women in agribusiness.

The survey – The Women in Agriculture survey is meant to help NASDA develop the accelerator program so that it best meets the needs of women in agriculture.

More information - Visit for links to the contest application, the survey, or more information on any of the three initiatives.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Contagious poultry disease in California jumps from backyards to a commercial flock

Dr. Dana R Dobbs
WSDA Field Veterinarian, Avian Health Lead

The vND virus can infect many bird species including chickens,
 turkeys, ducks, geese, and game birds. Infected birds shed
 large amounts of virus in respiratory fluids and feces.
An outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) in several Southern California backyard flocks has advanced to a commercial flock, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed last week.

Disease not detected in Washington

So far, no backyard flocks or commercial poultry operations in Washington have detected diseased birds associated with this most recent outbreak of the deadly poultry disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern.  No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products.  Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat.  In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected with mild symptoms, such as conjunctivitis.

Eradication efforts

In California, virulent Newcastle disease has continued to spread since in was detected in May.

There had been 234 cases involving backyard birds in California this year despite eradication efforts by USDA-APHIS and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Last week, USDA confirmed the presence of vND in a commercial chicken flock in Riverside County, California. The sick flock was completely depopulated within 24 hours of the positive finding. It was first case found in commercial poultry since 2003.

Keep virulent Newcastle disease out of Washington

Because the disease spreads quickly and represents a major economic risk to the poultry industry, WSDA asks local poultry growers and those with backyard flocks to keep their guard up.

One of the most likely pathways for the disease to find its way into Washington is a pet bird such as a parrot, said Washington State Veterinarian Brian Joseph. Exotic birds often carry the disease without visible symptoms. 

Poultry owners and veterinarians should be familiar with the clinical signs and actions to take if the disease is suspected. Report any cases to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056.

How can I protect my flock?

Virulent Newcastle Disease (previously Exotic Newcastle Disease) is a viral disease that affects all species of birds. Its primary mode of transmission is aerosols and / or direct contact with infected birds and their saliva or feces. The disease has a rapid onset, with an average of 5 days post exposure, and can be fatal. Besides respiratory secretions, the virus can be found in bedding, contaminated food / water, or on farm equipment and clothing. Therefore, it is essential that all flock owners have sound biosecurity practices in place.

Clinical signs to look for:

Sudden, unexplained death in the flock or high mortality
Coughing, sneezing, gasping for air
Depression, decreased appetite, green diarrhea
Changes in egg production
Paralysis of the legs or wings, twisting of the neck, tremors, circling
Swelling around the eyes and neck

** vND may cause transient conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) or flu like symptoms in humans. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to consume.

Don’t delay, report sick birds right away. 

WSDA Avian Health Program Sick Bird Hotline: 1-800-606-3056
Your local veterinarian
Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL): 509-335-9696
Avian Health and Food Safety Lab (AHFSL): 253-445-4537

**Veterinarians - It is extremely important that oropharyngeal samples are submitted to the laboratory for an accurate diagnosis and the owner takes precautions to limit the spread of disease in the meantime. Please call Beth Reitz at the State Veterinarian’s office if you have questions or would like to discuss an unusual case: 360-725-5494.

Disease prevention starts with good biosecurity practices:

Purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) hatcheries or producers
Isolate new birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days. This also applies to birds returning from fairs or shows
Restrict traffic onto and off of your property and avoid visits to other poultry operations; especially during an outbreak
Have dedicated clothing and boots for use in the poultry area
Isolate sick birds and visit them last during daily operations such as feeding or egg collection
Disinfect clothes, boots, equipment and wash hands after handling poultry
Keep poultry houses and feeders clean and provide a fresh water source
While there is a vaccine for vND, it may not prevent the disease

Please visit USDA Bulletin for more information about virulent Newcastle disease.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Keeping cow poop out of the water

Chris McGann

Holstein dairy cows at Plowman Dairy in Yelm.
If the true test of Dairy Nutrient Management planning is how well a facility handles rain, you could say WSDA’s Kyrre Flege scored perfect conditions this week when he drove out to the Plowman Dairy near Yelm for a regular inspection.

The rain had been coming down hard overnight and it was still pouring when Flege pulled into the yard outside Matt Plowman’s barns. Two stout, square-headed, brown dogs, Milo and Otis, greeted Flege with friendly barks and tails wagging as he stepped out of the gray state vehicle into a wet gray day -- and a mud puddle.

Otis and Milo give a warm hello before an
 inspection at Plowman Dairy.  
WSDA regulators inspect dairy farms on roughly 18-month intervals in large part to make sure some of the site visits occur during the rainy months.

Mission accomplished.
“Today is going to be the wettest inspection this dairy has had in several years,” Flege said.

Keeping water clean and clear

Dairy Nutrient Management is a WSDA program established to protect water quality from livestock nutrient discharge -- or in other words, to make sure producers keep their cow poop out of the water.

The program helps educate those who don't know that they have to keep poop out of the water, and penalizes those who know the rules, but don’t follow them.

In addition to education and equitable enforcement of state and federal water quality laws, Dairy Nutrient Management aims to help maintain a healthy agricultural business climate through clear guidance and technical assistance.

The top concerns for managing dairy manure are preventing harmful bacteria from contaminating surface water and preventing nitrogen from seeping into ground water.

The risks
Matt Plowman talks with Kyrre Flege about some of the
 proactive measures he has taken to protect water quality.

Runoff contaminated by manure or feed from a dairy could allow fecal coliform bacteria, pathogens, nutrients and sediment to get into surface water such as creeks and rivers. It threatens human health, fish and other wildlife.

Most dairy manure is stored in lagoons during wet months and then applied as fertilizer during the growing season and when there is less risk that it will contaminate surface water as runoff.

Dairy farmers must also monitor soil nitrogen levels in their fields to make sure they only applied what is necessary for their crops. If the nitrogen load exceeds that need, it could seep into groundwater and create a public health risk.

“If you can’t show why your crops need it, most people would call it waste disposal,” Flege said.

Taking pride in the family farm

A well-cared-for Holstein dairy cow stays dry during a
December storm. 
Matt Plowman sauntered up to meet us outside, offering a generous smile and a handshake before beginning the two-hour assessment. The life-long farmer clearly takes pride in caring for his cows and maintaining the operation he took over from his father.

“I think these cows get treated better than people,” he said. “They each have a nutritionist, regular pedicures and weekly doctor visits.”

Plowman guided Flege through the well-kept facilities, past the feed bins, silage bunkers and through the calf barn to the three large lagoons in the field behind. A steady flow of foamy manure slurry poured into the first. They walked the perimeter and observed the pipes and pumps that kept moving manure through the system.

Kyrre Flege inspects the inflow at one of the Plowman Dairy
 manure lagoons. 
“Some people say we get milk as a byproduct of our manure production,” Plowman said with a wry grin.

Making a big splash

Dairy Nutrient Management is a good fit for Flege, the program’s lead regulator.

Flege majored in environmental resource management at Western Washington University. He has been with WSDA for five years. Building on his experience inspecting dairies in the Lynden area, he recently moved to Olympia, where he now supervises inspectors statewide and covers dairy inspections in Southwest Washington.

“I like the work,” Flege said. “It’s an opportunity to protect our resources and water quality. I feel like we can make a big difference.”

Relationships are key to providing effective support for
proper manure management.
Flege says the program’s regulatory role dovetails well with its mandate to provide education and support.

“We build relationships with producers and we work really hard to help them understand the value of protecting resources,” he said. “The industry’s future depends on being environmentally sustainable. There is no future for dairy farming if it comes at the cost of water quality.”

Record keeping

After the facility inspection, Flege joined Plowman in the office to review his record keeping – a cornerstone of the program’s mission.

The law says you can’t discharge pollution to surface or groundwater.

Matt Plowman helps Kyrre Flege understand the
geography of his farm.
“You have to keep records,” Flege said. “Complete records tell a story of how well you manage manure for your crops and the environment. Having a well maintained facility, sound record keeping, and following guidance in your Dairy Nutrient Management Plan will keep you in compliance."

Flege studied the application records, soil analysis results and detailed maps of the dairy. He asked questions to make sure he understood the topography and the drainage.

He explained his findings to Plowman, complimenting him on the safe nitrogen levels in his fields and properly functioning waste water management systems.

“Your lagoons are in great shape,” Flege said. “And the curbs you have in place are handling the rain on a very wet day.”

But Flege also noted that the heavy rain was overloading the driveway storm water runoff filter at the low end of the feed yard.

Before leaving, Flege promised to work with Plowman and help connect him to resources to upgrade that element.