Friday, February 17, 2023

A look back on 2022: Drones and hornets

WSDA talks to colleagues and media about
the potential drone use for hornet tracking.
By Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

While we look back on 2022, I’d be remiss to only take a peek from a bird’s-eye view. Some of the work our agency is tasked with involves protecting agriculture by getting rid of and keeping invasive pests out of the state.

Since 2019, our teams have been tracking and removing northern giant hornet (NGH) nests and have garnered lots of experience in the art of nest removal. From visiting South Korea to learn more to removing four nests and learning all the ins and outs of this process, one thing remains true: in Washington state, these hornets have given our hornet trackers a run for their money.

When we found a northern giant hornet, we would radio tag it, and follow that hornet back to the nest.

Trekking through the woodlands of northern Whatcom County proved to be difficult when the NGH trackers began to find nests deep in the woods in tree cavities, often several feet off the ground. The scientific literature suggests that in native environments, NGH typically nests underground. However, in Washington, hornet nests were often located in dense forests with hard-to trek of lands. This made it hard to follow a hornet back to its nest.

These obstacles slowed tracking in two ways; first by requiring ground tracking personnel to cut their way through heavy blackberry growth with machetes, and second by the forest itself interfering with the range the tag’s radio signal could be detected. These difficulties were compounded by the handheld tracking units being limited to detecting a single signal, which was a shortcoming when multiple tagged hornets were in an area at the same time.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

Our tracking teams decided to incorporate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) equipped with radio telemetry hardware to aid in future tracking operations. The first step was identifying if it would be useful in the program. While the program drones haven’t officially taken flight, as soon as the government policy is written and finalized, the sky’s the limit.

WSDA hornet trackers say these drones will be beneficial in rapidly locating an area where a tagged hornet is located. We believe it will also allow them to follow a highly mobile, tagged hornet from above the forest canopy, to cut down on signal interference from the forest itself, and to enable the ground team to track multiple tag frequencies simultaneously in real time.

Speed and efficiency

Speed and efficiency is critical to any eradication effort. While locating the nests via radio tagged northern giant hornets will invariably require the presence of a ground crew with handheld radio telemetry receivers, the aerial tracking system will both increase the efficiency of the tracking operation and reduce safety risks to personnel in certain difficult field conditions.

Flying into the future

Our team is hopeful that as soon as the policies are completed, our hornet tracking abilities can have the takeoff we’ve been dreaming of. Keep an eye on our blog for more on this in the coming months.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Japanese beetle eradication plans underway, consent forms hit mailboxes this week

Grandview was crawling with activity this summer when Japanese beetle adult flight season was in full force. If you don’t already know, we’ve seen a quickly growing infestation of the pest in the area, and this year we started our three-pronged approach to getting rid of this pest and protecting our ag industry from another threat to its vitality. One of those three prongs includes treatment.

That’s where you, residents in the infestation areas, come in.


Consent forms should be hitting mailboxes any day. You’ll see a letter from us asking for your permission to treat your property with insecticide. This treatment will be free of charge and we need everyone to join in the effort to help us get rid of this pest before the population becomes too big to control.

If you think you’re in a treatment zone but didn’t get a letter, check your address on our map to see if you qualify for a free treatment. This is one of those efforts that will truly “take a village.”


In 2022 we set 3,050 traps, hoping to gauge how many and how far spread out they are, and taking as many beetles out of commission as possible.  That will be one of the efforts we continue on this year too. In 2022, we caught more than 23,000 beetles, that’s less than we captured in 2021. While the numbers were indeed down, the population still spread in acreage. That’s what brings us to our third prong: quarantine.


Limiting what the beetles can ride around on will also be key in keeping the infestation where it is. As we saw from one year to the next, the population of the beetles didn’t grow much, largely due to the efforts of our eradication team and community support, but they did spread out further. That’s why the current quarantine was expanded by emergency rule a few weeks ago.

Residents must also follow the quarantine to prevent spreading the beetles by not moving items known to transport beetles outside of the quarantine area.

To limit the need to move yard debris and other plant material outside the quarantine area, WSDA has established a drop-off site available during the adult flight season, May to October. Businesses and residents can take all accepted items to the Japanese Beetle Response Yard Debris Drop-Off at 875 Bridgeview Rd., Grandview, WA 98930. There is no charge for disposal. Proof of address within the quarantine area is required.

Those moving out of the quarantine area will not be able to take any of the regulated items with them.


In 2020, WSDA first discovered just three Japanese beetles in the Grandview area. Last year the department trapped more than 24,000 beetles. In 2022, teams have caught 23,000 beetles. Japanese beetles are highly invasive pests of more than 300 plants, including roses, grapes, and hops. The adult beetles damage plants by skeletonizing the foliage. Adults also feed on buds, flowers, and fruit on the plants and are frequently intercepted with air cargo from the Eastern U.S. 

The invasive species is not native to Washington state, and has no natural predator to keep it’s population in check. If it becomes established here, agriculture will have a more difficult and expensive task at hand.

Help us spread the word and get rid of these pests!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Looking back on 2022: Hunger relief

Amber Betts

When I first started working at WSDA, I had a short-sighted view of what our agency did. This is the first of a series of articles looking back at the last year of work my colleagues did. And in the case of this article, I am featuring the work of the Food Assistance programs and celebrating the incredible perseverance of hundreds of hunger relief organizations they partner with to keep food-insecure Washingtonians nourished. While I can’t capture everything this program or any other at WSDA does (because it is much more than many may realize), I will do my best to share some meaningful highlights.

As the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), it makes sense that our goal is to build better food systems, promote our ag industry, and increase food security. But did you know we have a big role in relieving hunger in our state?

In fact, by working with more than 500 organizations, WSDA helps feed one in every six households in our state. That’s two homes on my tiny block alone. That’s a lot of people. How do we do it?

I asked our team of hard-working, passionate folks in our Food Assistance programs, and we have so many different efforts my head was spinning afterward.

This is just a snapshot of what we accomplished in the past year.

The Food Assistance team runs multiple programs that provide food, funds, technical support, logistics, emergency management, and more to this network of hunger relief organizations. In partnership with these hard-working organizations, our programs have been able to help lessen the impact of food supply challenges, economic instability, and increased community need. Over the past year, these efforts have supplemented the food and nutrition needs of over a million food-insecure Washingtonians and increased economic opportunity for many Washington farmers and producers.

With honor, integrity, transparency, and collaboration, Food Assistance aims to advance equity, expand access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods, and increase ongoing resiliency for the entire hunger relief network of Washington, and all they serve.

Below is an overview of the multiple programs run by Food Assistance – in partnership with hundreds of food pantries, food banks, tribes, and other hunger relief organizations – and their impact in 2022.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program

Strawberries provided for 
emergency food assistance
A federally funded (United States Department of Agriculture – USDA) program that provides necessary food staples to low-income adults 60 years of age and over. Food Assistance provided $510,000.00 to agencies throughout Washington State to run this program. In 2022, 6154 seniors received monthly, nutrition-focused food packages, the value of which totaled $1.9 million.

Emergency Food Assistance Program

A state-funded program that provides funding to food banks and food pantries to assist with costs associated with hunger relief – including food, operating costs, training, and equipment. In 2022, Food Assistance provided $8.3 million in operational funding to agencies throughout Washington State, and these agencies (community food pantries) leveraged the funds to distribute 181 million pounds of food to 8.4 million food insecure Washington residents.

Emergency Food Assistance Program – Tribal

Through this state-funded program, 31 Washington State tribes received $870,000 in operational funding for their tribal food pantry and voucher programs. These operational funds support both food vouchers (with which food can be purchased from community supermarkets) and tribal food pantry operating costs (including food, training, and equipment), helping to feed 27,000 tribal members in 2022.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

A primarily federally funded (USDA) program that provides food (fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable) to hunger relief organizations (including food pantries and meal programs) for distribution to the community. In 2022, the Food Assistance program purchased and coordinated 894 truckloads and distributed 21 million pounds of food across the state (worth over $30 million), in addition to $7 million of operational funding.

Resiliency Grants and Initiatives

Apoyo obtained a new food delivery vehicle
with support from WSDA grant funding
This program, established in 2021, aims to address crisis and build resiliency in the Washington hunger relief system in response to COVID-19 and its long-term effects. Funded through the state Legislature and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery fund (part of the American Rescue Plan Act), this program awarded more than $20 million through competitive process grants to hunger relief organizations and tribes across Washington, including many new partners. A diverse advisory committee informed the program’s design.

Some of the resiliency-building projects funded in 2022 included:
  • Locally grown, culturally relevant produce purchased directly from small farms for distribution.
  • Locally grown and raised bison, beef, fish, and wheat for processing and distribution.
  • New and repaired coolers and freezers for increased fresh and perishable food capacity.
  • Costs of operation, including delivery, staffing (including living wages), rent, and more.
  • Refrigerated vehicles for home delivery, mobile pantries, and regional food distribution.
  • Warehouse equipment for increased efficiency, capacity, and safety.

Farm to Food Pantry

This program (established in 2014 with Harvest Against Hunger) encourages local resiliency through the establishment of long-term partnerships between hunger relief organizations and small-scale farmers. Through these partnerships, fresh produce is purchased from small farms, then distributed to food-insecure communities. In 2022, 25 participating agencies across 30 counties created new selling markets for 162 small farms. The $263,700 received directly by farmers resulted in 147,708 pounds of nutritious produce that was distributed to the community through 215 hunger relief locations.

TEFAP Farm to Food Bank

This is a federally funded (USDA) short-term grant program (established in 2019) to help reduce food waste and create partnerships between local farmers and growers with the hunger relief organizations in their area. In 2022, approximately $153,000 was awarded to four agencies to harvest, process, and distribute food donated by local growers. And through these partnerships, 127,098 pounds of fresh and processed food was rescued to be distributed to food-insecure individuals.

Cook WA Meal Kit

A pilot program established in 2022, modeled after meal kit companies like Hello Fresh. The Food Assistance team partnered with SNAP-Ed and Washington chefs to develop nutritious recipes for food pantry customers. Eleven food banks and one tribal nation participated in 2022, co-packing food, sauces, spices, and recipe cards into over 35,000 two-meal-equivalent meal kits for distribution through food pantries.

Reserve Food Warehouse

FareStart mobile market brings fresh food into
communities with limited access thanks to 
funding support from WSDA.
To help with stability in the hunger relief network amidst food shortages and rising food costs in 2022, Food Assistance team members used a partner organization warehouse to hold purchased shelf-stable foods to be released as needed to the hunger relief network. Over 26 truckloads carrying 974,555 pounds of food were purchased, stored, and distributed to the network from this warehouse in 2022.

TEFAP Reach and Resiliency

A federally funded (USDA) short-term grant established in 2022, helping to expand the TEFAP program into more remote, rural, tribal, low-income, and underserved areas by supporting the additional operating costs; $827,000 was awarded in 2022.

Local Food Purchasing Assistance

A federally funded (USDA-AMS) short-term grant program that helps improve regional supply chain resiliency through partnership. In 2022, $2.7 million was awarded to 29 hunger relief organizations and tribes to establish direct purchase partnerships with socially disadvantaged farmers, producers, and ranchers across the state.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Santa’s reindeer cleared to fly into Washington State on Christmas Eve

Dr. Amber Itle
Washington State Veterinarian

 Photo courtesy of Ed and Sonya Benhardt 
Reindeer Express LLC, Rearden, Wash.

Not all elves make toys, some take care of Santa’s team of reindeer. Santa’s head herds-elf, Holly, oversees reindeer husbandry and care at the North Pole. The elves have all been preparing for the big day by taking special care to properly condition the team to ensure they can endure the long flight. The elves work hard to minimize stress by providing reindeer with optimal nutrition, fresh air, clean bedding, and lots of space. Hermie, the elf dental specialist inspects and “floats” all their teeth for optimal oral health. 

Holly is also in charge of making sure all the reindeer health requirements are met before flying around the world. While planning for Santa’s stops in the United States, she checked to see what each State requires. All the reindeer that cross state lines must meet Washington State import requirements, including a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) issued by an accredited veterinarian and a permit number to move between states for toy delivery. A CVI is a special animal health document that certifies that the animals listed “are not showing signs of infectious, contagious and/or communicable diseases” and have met all the required vaccinations and testing requirements. Santa’s reindeer tested negative for tuberculosis, brucellosis, and meningeal worms and have maintained “free” status in the CWD Herd Certification Program. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph all received clearance to fly into Washington state. 

Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle met with Holly to review his CVI paperwork and Santa’s biosecurity plans. Biosecurity plans are used to mitigate risk and limit exposure of Santa’s reindeer to disease by implementing key practices. This is extremely important since reindeer are susceptible to foot and mouth disease, an economically devastating and most contagious disease of cloven hooved animals. Biosecurity practices help to protect the reindeer for disease and allow for business continuity at the North Pole. If Santa’s reindeer get sick, they will not be able to deliver toys, which would have a huge economic and emotional impact on children and parents alike! Furthermore, Santa doesn’t want to be responsible for delivering an animal disease along with toys when he traverses the world. 

Santa’s Top 10 Biosecurity Plan Tips

  1. No visitors to the North Pole. 
  2. Keep a closed reindeer herd.
  3. Perform annual laboratory testing for diseases of concern.
  4. Establish a relationship with a veterinarian to oversee herd health and vaccinations.
  5. Bring your own reindeer grain, hay, and water for the journey.
  6. When traveling, never land on the ground; rooftops are cleaner.
  7. Avoid direct contact with wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.
  8. Clean & disinfect your sleigh and boots between rooftops, states, countries and when returning to the North Pole.
  9. Isolate all reindeer returning from toy delivery for 30 days.
  10. Designate elves to care for reindeer who have traveled. 

Make sure to track Santa and the reindeer’s flight path on December 24 using NORAD’s Santa Tracker.  Remember, if you are moving animals across state lines this holiday season to check to meet the interstate animal movement requirements.

Have a safe and happy holiday season from our end of the barn to yours. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Washington board game, the holidays, and Paul Harvey

How the true-to-farm-life game saved a family farm and continues to entertain and teach about the trials and rewards of agriculture around the world

Karla Salp

Original version of The Farming Game
Photo credit: Marylou Krautscheid
Mom picked up our family’s copy of The Farming Game at Cenex in Quincy. I always wanted to be “Roza Ray” or “Sunnyside Sidney” – two of the six Central Washington-themed names of the farmers in the game. The beat-up box and the odd missing piece testify to the fact that playing the board game was a popular pastime in our household. Only during the winter, of course, when the relentless list of farm and garden tasks took a seasonal reprieve.   

Apparently, we are gluttons for punishment.

Unlike Farmville, where there is almost no way to lose and the cows will wait until you come home, The Farming Game keeps it real. The cows get out. Hail ruins your crops. It’s 114 degrees in the shade.

While you can get rangeland, but there is a limit to how much cattle it can hold. High-priced fruit crops are high value but also high risk. Fate throws unexpected twists at the farm dream.

At least the way we played, it also never ended. Like real farmers, we played until we just got tired of it, or we went broke. Whichever came first.  

Hard times

The game itself really was invented on the seat of a tractor – just like it says on the box. After several years of initial success when they started farming in Central Washington, the Rohrbacher family was struggling to keep the farm afloat when their Goldendale ranch, which normally received over 20 inches of rain a year, received only five inches one year. The next, less than three.

With a third child on the way, the Rohrbacher family’s dream of returning to the land to farm was drying up in the summer of 1979. But that July, an idea sprung up in George Rohrbacher’s mind, cultivated by the smell of fresh-cut hay as he cut alfalfa in the pre-dawn hours.

George Rohrbacher, creator of The Farming Game
The idea – “the crazy idea” his wife Ann said – was to create a Monopoly-like board game about farming to save the family farm. Knowing that the most likely time for board game sales would be the holidays, the family set to work sourcing and assembling the game in time for the holiday sales rush. They literally bet the farm to do it – selling off half of their cows to pay for the board game materials and putting every penny they had into amassing 10,000 games.

Had George not been a natural marketer, that may have been the end of their farm, the game, and their life savings. He did everything from taking the game to farm shows and small-town shops to writing President Jimmy Carter and Paul Harvey, a radio show host popular in many rural communities at the time.

While the President returned a mimeographed “thanks for your letter” note, Paul Harvey did mention the game on his nationally-syndicated radio program. Although the Rohrbacher family never heard it themselves, there was a sudden uptick in sales and customers reporting they heard about the game on the radio.

The Paul Harvey push came just in time. By Christmas, they had a newborn, sold 7,000 games, and had earned enough to keep the farm afloat. Income from game sales continued to support the farm for years.

Beyond the farm

Current look of The Farming Game
The game was an immediate hit in farming communities where George peddled it. The farm families enjoyed the game but also appreciated how it accurately reflected the struggles of real farm life. Soon, teachers also saw the value in the game as a fun way to demonstrate to students how economics and real-world businesses work.

The Rohrbacher family was not the only farm hit by hard times. Increased prices and interest rates – much like today – made farming difficult to sustain, even for families who had been farming for generations. Tractors took to the streets in D.C. At one point, the game was given to every member of Congress to help them understand American farmers’ challenges at the time. George himself would even eventually become a Washington State Senator.

The game has also spread beyond America’s own borders. In 1994, the World Bank flew George to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union to oversee the translation of the game into Russian. There, the game was used to help farmers understand farm privatization after the end of socialism.

The Farming Game today

The Farming Game has been available for over forty years, now sporting an updated green box as opposed to the original tan. It was adapted for Windows and Macs but the electronic versions appear to no longer be available.

Interest in the game continues, having sold over 350,000 copies. Hard times seem to increase sales according to George – with increases in times of economic downturn and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rohrbacher family was even featured on The Last Archive podcast recently, discussing the game and the impact it has had. (Please note: The podcast contains a small amount of language or subjects that some listeners may find objectionable.)

The Farming Game brings up nostalgic memories for many a farm kid and anyone else lucky enough to have played the game, even though they knew nothing of the hard times that inspired the game, how it saved a family, or just how widespread the game’s impact has been. But now you know…the rest of the story.