Tuesday, November 14, 2017

WSDA, financial institutions, law enforcement out to put the brakes on skimmers

Jerry Buendel 
Weights and Measures

WSDA has been teaming up with banks and credit unions, law enforcement agencies, and gas station owners to put the brakes on the growing crime of credit and debit card theft through “skimmers.” 

A skimmer is an electronic device, sometimes placed at gas pumps, that can steal your debit and credit card information. Thieves can then sell the information to other criminals to buy gift cards or purchase merchandise for quick resale. Some consumers have even had their accounts emptied when their debit card information was stolen. 

Growing awareness of skimmer fraud
Illegal card skimmer (circled)
During 2016, when I served as chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, the Secret Service and FBI conducted training about skimmers for state officials at our meeting in San Diego.  This past September, skimmer training was again on the agenda, this time at our regional meeting in Arizona. 

I have had a VISA fraud investigator speak to my team at our annual meeting in Olympia. Staff from Seattle’s Weights and Measures attended as well. Our inspectors receive updates on skimmer activities from other states, including Arizona, Michigan and Florida.  The networking is valuable. When we have doubts about what we’ve discovered, we text photos to these other investigators for an immediate second opinion. 

In short, everyone is working on addressing this national problem.

Partnering to combat skimmers
Earlier this year, I began attending a monthly fraud roundtable hosted by the Washington State Employees Credit Union. This informal group of law enforcement officers, state regulatory officials, and bank and credit union investigators exchange information and share tips. 

The group agreed to advise each other when they spot suspicious equipment or potentially fraudulent activity. The sharing goes both ways. 

This past summer, Boeing Employee Credit Union (BECU) let WSDA’s staff know that they tracked fraudulent activity back to a gas station in Moses Lake. We sent inspectors to the location, where they found two skimmers. The inspectors then notified police, who took a report on the d.jiscovery.

Our inspectors regularly check for these devices during their routine gas pump inspections and have discovered additional skimmers in many areas. 


Advice for station owners on skimmers
Fuel station owners and employees can help prevent skimmer theft by following these tips:

  • Install high-quality locks or use tamper-resistant seals on fuel dispensers.
  • Install alarms or automatic shutoff devices that activate when a dispenser is opened.
  • Inspect the fuel pumps frequently – both outside and inside.
  • Upgrade your fuel dispensers to accept chip-enabled debit and credit cards.

Consumers can protect themselves by paying in cash, using a credit card instead of a debit card and reviewing their billing statements to see if there have been any suspect purchases.  Contact your bank or credit union immediately if you find any fraudulent use of your cards.

By working together we can prevent crime and consumers and station owners can be more proactive in protecting themselves. For more information or to report a possible skimmer, contact WSDA’s Weights and Measures in Olympia at wtsmeasures@agr.wa.gov  or at (360) 902-2035.

Monday, October 23, 2017

West Nile virus season waning; Nine horses test positive

Mike Louisell
Communications

Washington state had far fewer cases in 2017 of horses infected with West Nile virus than last year.

This year, the West Nile virus was confirmed in nine horses statewide. If the number holds firm, that is far less than the 27 West Nile equine cases recorded in 2016. Most of the horses struck with the disease were not vaccinated. While some of the horses recovered from the illness, others had to be euthanized. 

The nine cases reported this year were confined to four counties. Spokane County had six. Benton, Lincoln and Kittitas counties each had a single horse case confirmed by laboratory testing. Last year, cases of West Nile virus in horses were recorded in 10 counties, all located in Eastern Washington, with Spokane County reporting eight of the illnesses.

The disease can be fatal to horses especially if they show advanced neurological signs. The best way to prevent West Nile virus in horses is by vaccination—a message you’ll be hearing again from WSDA veterinary staff next spring.

The disease is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. It does not spread directly from horses to people or other animals. Cold weather, particularly a good freeze or two, will take care of mosquito threats until next spring.

Visit WSDA’s Animal Health webpage for tips on minimizing the risk of West Nile virus for your horses, or go to www.doh.wa.gov/wnv for more information about West Nile virus activity in our state, including human cases. 


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Learn the Ropes of Organic Certification with New Videos

Heidi Peroni
Organic Program

The Organic Program, working with North by Northwest Productions, has created two additional videos to share information with the public about organic certification and the certification process:


Preventative Practices for Organic Handlers     




Organic Livestock Feed Requirements 




These videos add to the series begun in 2015, when the Organic Program applied for and received a contract with USDA to promote Sound and Sensible Certification outreach, a USDA project with the goal of identifying and removing barriers to certification in order to make certification more accessible, attainable and affordable.

As a part of this project, the Organic Program produced three videos:

Steps to Certification: Organic Certification doesn’t have to be daunting. Explore the five key steps in the organic certification process.


Preventative Practices for Crop Producers: Managing weed, insect, and disease pests on an organic farm requires addressing potential problems before they arise. Learn more about preventative practices and how they are required for organic certification.




Recordkeeping: Keeping accurate records is crucial for any business. Find out what types of records are required for organic certification and how they will be evaluated during the certification process.




For a complete list of videos created by the Organic Program, see our organic videos page. Videos are also offered with Spanish voiceover.

For an introduction to what organic certification is all about, and additional resources offered by the Organic Program, see our Interested in Organic certification page.

Feel free to contact us with any questions, and direct clients with questions about organic certification our way. We’re here to help!

WSDA Organic Program
(360) 902-1805


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Beyond Wheat: Dry Farming in the Pacific Northwest

Karla Salp
Communications

While growing wheat without irrigation is common on expansive farms in Eastern Washington, growing vegetables without supplemental water is rare.

Tomatoes, zucchini and even pumpkins – one of the most water-dependent crops – are being grown without irrigation and it's being done right here in the Pacific Northwest.

What is dry farming?


Weather


Dry farming consists of raising crops in areas with wet winters and dry summers. Most dry farmers agree that you need at least 15-20 inches of rain annually to dry farm. Certain areas of California, Oregon and Washington have the required weather pattern to dry farm successfully.

Soils


The right soil is also needed to dry farm. The soil depth should be a minimum of 60 inches and should have good water-holding capacity. Maintaining soil moisture during long dry periods is critical and requires tillage, soil protection and the use of drought-resistant varieties.

Seed varieties 


The final factor to consider is crop variety. As dry farmers are learning, there is a wide variance in yield from one crop variety to the next. For example, one type of watermelon may have a productive yield on a dry farm, while other varieties lag far behind. Finding these drought-tolerant varieties is key to dry farming success.

Photos courtesy of Oregon State University

Should you dry farm?


The most obvious benefit of dry farming is that the farmer does not have to irrigate the crop. This can be very appealing in areas where there are water right issues or a risk of drought. Overall, dry farmers say that not irrigating means less work and fewer weeds.

In addition to the sustainability factor, many dry farmers claim the produce tastes better with flavors more concentrated in the dry farmed produce. Blind taste-testers have tended to agree.

Why doesn’t everyone dry farm?


While dry farming may appear to be the future in areas with the right weather and soil, there are challenges.

Yield


Interestingly, with the right variety, the yield per plant of a given crop can be as high as, and sometimes higher than, irrigated plants. However, dry farmed plants must be spaced much farther apart so as to reduce competition for water. Fewer plants per acre means a lower overall yield.

This may be the Achilles heel of dry farming. In a world where farmland is being swallowed up by urban areas every day, the future challenge for farming is to produce more food – not less– on shrinking farmland.

Currently, farmers are primarily paid on yield. Dry farming yields for vegetables will likely be too low to financially sustain a farmer unless the produce itself demands a much higher price, for example by having superior flavor compared to irrigated crops.

There are also very few areas in the world with the proper weather and soil to make dry farming feasible. So while there are opportunities for dry farming, it isn’t applicable to much of the world.
Another challenge is that very little research has been done to determine what varieties perform best with dry farming. Most seeds today have been developed with the advantage of irrigation, resulting in few varieties that are adapted for drought tolerance.

Opportunities and Adventure


In the areas where dry farming is feasible, it is an exciting time to be involved.

Through work at Oregon State University, a Dry Farming Collaborative group has formed on Facebook for those interested in learning about and supporting the development of dry farming. For example, members work on trials of various crop varieties and share their success and failures with the group. They also influence and even participate in field research.

Dry farming will never work on many farms, but it does present an interesting opportunity for those with the right climate and soil.

And agriculture as a whole may benefit from dry farming research as well. From the development of dry farming practices and drought-resistance plant breeds may come better tools, methods and plant varieties that may enable many farmers to decrease their reliance on water.

In the end, dry farming may lead to more sustainable agriculture for everyone.

Visit Oregon State University's website for more info.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Schools and farms come together on Taste Washington Day

Hannah Street
Communications

Olympia High School teacher Jason “Blue” Peetz lets his students do the talking. After a brief introduction, one student after another stood up to talk about the Freedom Farm’s classes, summer job training program, and the impact of this nontraditional learning opportunity.

Derek Sandison and Trudi Inslee listen to a student at
the Freedom Farm in Olympia.
The farm presentation and tour was part of this year’s Taste Washington Day activities, held across the state during National Farm to School month on Oct. 4. The event raises awareness of Farm to School efforts and promotes the use of locally grown foods in school cafeterias.

This year, 60 school districts, representing 471,208 enrolled students, and 73 farmers participated in the event. At the schools, beyond serving a Washington-grown menu, 50 percent highlighted farmers on their menus and 44 percent bought ingredients directly from a farm.

In addition to Taste Washington Day, WSDA's Farm to School program allows the agency to provide year-round support to farms and schools, ensuring consistent local produce sourcing and agricultural education.

The Washington School Nutrition Association (WSNA) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) partnered with WSDA to coordinate Taste Washington Day, now in its seventh year.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison and First Lady Trudi Inslee were among those who toured the farm, owned by the Olympia School District.

Freedom Farm is a collaboration between the nonprofit organization Garden-Raised Bounty (GRuB), Olympia High School, and the Olympia School District’s career and technical education department. Their programs are prioritized for low-income and credit deficient students, and seek to alleviate some of the issues that come with having those backgrounds while attending conventional school. During the year, students earn school credit, and in the summer, the farm functions as an opportunity for students to earn money and job experience.
Produce growing at the Freedom Farm.
“Even though we’re in high school most jobs expect you to already have experience,” one student said. “We have amazing people who give us references for jobs.”

Under student management since 2013, the farm has produced over 37,000 pounds of fresh produce. Much of that produce ends up in the kitchen at Olympia High School, where the group headed next for lunch.

Farm to School
At Olympia High School, meals are prepared in the large, stainless steel kitchen. The appliances included one machine that resembles a large juicer. As the tour group watched, a carrot was placed into the top, and even slices shot out the bottom. The tool, provided by a grant, helps kitchen workers prepare farm-fresh produce and meet the large school district's needs faster. After being cut, the carrots can be quickly bagged and sent out to 19 feeding sites.

Derek Sandison and Nik Pitharoulis talk in
the cafeteria at Olympia High School.
Some local farmers attended the Taste Washington Day event at Olympia High, including some from Chrisman Farms, Johnson Berry Farm, and Black River Blues Blueberry Farm. Nik Pitharoulis of Black River Blues said Olympia is the first school district to use his farm.

“It’s a great source of extra income for me,” Pitharoulis said. The school district also buys his frozen berries in the offseason.

The Freedom Farmers were also recognized.

Paul Flock, supervisor of the school district’s Child Nutrition Services, held an uncommonly large tomato aloft. “When I get this kind of produce,” he said, “I get a lot of ‘O-M-G’s. These kids are students, but they really know what they’re doing.”
Students with their lunches on Taste Washington Day at Olympia High School.