Monday, August 31, 2015

Grain inspection shifts to environmentally friendly testing


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

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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Count stands at 10 horses with West Nile virus—all in Eastern Washington

Communications Office

We now have 10 cases of horses struck with the West Nile virus, with those horses spread across seven counties in Eastern Washington.

West Nile virus is a disease carried by mosquitoes which can be fatal to horses. Symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy and loss of coordination. Horse owners are urged to keep horses indoors at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are prevalent, especially if their horses have not been vaccinated against West Nile.

There's still time to vaccinate for this mosquito season. And, for greater comfort for your horses, consider insect repellent sprays or wipes, fly sheets or fly-repellent feed supplements.

The newest West Nile virus cases have been found in Grant, Kittitas and Lincoln counties and include:
  • A 9-year old Quarter horse mare in Moses Lake which became ill but is improving with treatment. That horse was last vaccinated for the virus four years ago.
  • A 5-year old Quarter horse mare in Moses Lake contracted the virus and was euthanized. There was no vaccine history for this horse.
  • A 14-year old Quarter horse gelding in Ellensburg contracted the virus and was euthanized. It appeared the horse had not been vaccinated for at least the past five years. 
  • A 5-year old Appaloosa mare in Almira became ill and was euthanized. It did not appear that the mare had been vaccinated for the virus.
This summer, there have been several cases of horses with West Nile virus in Adams, Benton, Franklin and Yakima counties. So far, no equine cases involving Western Washington horses have been reported. 

West Nile virus is a reportable disease, so veterinarians who learn of potential cases in horses or other animals should inform the State Veterinarian’s Office in Olympia by calling (360) 902-1881.

Monday, August 17, 2015

How dairy producers and livestock sellers can help keep cattle healthy and safe

by Dawn Grummer

Are you a livestock seller or dairy producer selling cattle under the “15-head” livestock inspection exemption?  If you are, there are a few changes you should know about.

The first change is that, beginning  July 1, 2015, WSDA began collecting an Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) fee on all cattle. The 15-head exemption from livestock inspection does not exempt dairy producers or livestock sellers from paying this new ADT fee. In fact, failing to pay the fee can result in a civil penalty of up to $250 per violation or per head.

We were contacted recently by a livestock seller asking for an easy way to track transactions and submit the ADT fee. Working with that seller, WSDA's Animal Disease Traceability Program created an ADT Fee Remittance form  that you can use. This form will make tracking ownership transfers under the “15-head exemption” and the remittance of the ADT fee easy for dairy producers or livestock sellers.

So, how much is this fee? The new rule established an ADT fee of 23 cents per head on all cattle sold or slaughtered in the state or transported out of state. There is a fee of 5 cents per head on all out-of-state cattle that are shipped directly to a federally inspected slaughter facility. 

Normally, a WSDA livestock inspector will collect the fee at the time of inspection. However, right now there is an exemption from the livestock inspection requirements. Commonly known as the “15-head exemption,” it allows individual private sales of unbranded female dairy breed cattle involving 15 head or less to take place without inspection by the WSDA.

The 15-head exemption is going away and will no longer be available as of January 1, 2016. At that time, all cattle will be required to get a livestock inspection or report livestock ownership transfers through an Electronic Cattle Transaction Reporting system (ECTR), once made available by the department.

No one likes to pay a fee. But the ADT fee is about protecting the livestock industry. The money raised through this fee will help support our state's animal disease traceability activities, including maintaining a robust database that can be used in an animal disease outbreak to quickly and accurately locate and quarantine the source of the disease. Having this ability will not only provide assurance to your customers that they are purchasing safe, quality products, but also will provide each of you assurance that in the case of a disease outbreak, the risk of spreading the disease is greatly limited.

Reporting ownership transfers and paying the ADT fee is a vital step in protecting public health and maintaining the economic vitality of our livestock industries. If you want more information on our state's animal disease traceability efforts, email or call our Animal Disease Traceability Program at (360) 725-5493 or (360) 902-1987.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What’s in your trailer or truck?

Communications Office 

WSDA investigators talk with hay haulers.
With summer travel and harvests well under way, WSDA is making an extra effort to ensure drivers transporting agriculture products or livestock meet state requirements meant to safeguard our crops and livestock.

As part of this effort, we teamed up with the Washington State Patrol to conduct emphasis checks along State Route 12 at the end of July. Investigators from WSDA’s Agricultural Investigations and Animal Health programs waved drivers off the road and into the check point set up at White Pass.

There, our staff talked to the drivers - some pulling trailers filled with cattle or horses, and some hauling hay or other agricultural crops. The investigators wanted to make sure drivers transporting this material had proper ownership documents, appropriate licenses, records of necessary inspections or animal health certificates when needed.  

State troopers joined in to ensure trucks and trailers met commercial vehicle regulations. The troopers conducted safety inspections, enforced compliance with weight limits and checked for current licensing and registration.

WSDA investigators spoke with nearly 40 drivers hauling hay, sweet corn, carrots, apples, watermelon and other field crops - most of this bound for farmers markets and private sales. Two horses and 140 cattle made up the livestock being carried over White Pass. 

Corn hauler chats with WSDA investigators.
Five violations were detected involving ag commodity dealers who either were not licensed or had a brand violation involving livestock. Some verbal and written warnings were also issued. Of those found in violation of licensing requirements, two have already begun the process of getting licensed and one has already become licensed. 

For team members, this was a successful effort - they were able to find some violations of state rules and get those people into compliance, but more importantly, they were able to educate a number of people about the rules involving livestock and commodities. 

The team is planning to conduct more of these checks through the summer, including in an area near the Idaho border. If you need info on licensing for commodity dealers, visit the Agricultural Investigations Program. For information on requirements regarding livestock, visit the Animal Health Program.

USDA program brings more locally grown foods into schools

WSDA Farm to School      

Washington is one of eight states selected to participate in the USDA Pilot Project for Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables.  The Pilot, mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill, enables schools to use their USDA entitlement dollars to buy more locally-grown, minimally processed produce. In recent years, schools could only use this money to buy fresh produce from a single designated contractor.

The Pilot Project allows them to use their USDA Foods budget to buy from a wider variety of vendors, encouraging schools to buy from regional farms and distributors, and allowing schools flexibility in the food they offer their students. 

Under the Pilot, schools can purchase fruits and vegetables that are “unprocessed” or “minimally” processed. Sliced, diced, chopped, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are acceptable. Heated-treated processing such as canning or pickling is not allowed. Schools can still buy these products with their other funds, just not through the pilot.
WSDA Farm to School table at the Washington State 
Nutrition Association Conference

Already, Washington schools have set aside more than $1 million of this USDA funding for purchases made possible by the Pilot Project. WSDA is working to recruit and support farms, distributors, and processors to become approved vendors and to help schools buy through the pilot.

Every year, school nutrition directors and food service staff from across the state gather at the Washington State Nutrition Association Conference for education and meetings. I attended the conference on July 27, along with Tricia Kovacs, Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School manager. We were there to join Jim Hemmen and Donna Parsons from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to educate schools about how to participate in the Pilot Project and what to expect. We found a lot of interest in the pilot project, but also a lot of questions on the nuts and bolts of buying food from local farmers.

The good news is that participation is relatively easy for schools, since USDA approves the vendors and pays for the food, and standard procurement rules and practices apply. There are 32 school districts currently participating and sign-up is open through December 2015. 

Schools interested should contact Jim Hemmen, Child Nutrition Services, OSPI, (360)-725-6209 or for more information.

If schools need help with buying local, see A School’s Guide to Purchasing Washington-grown Food, developed by WSDA’s Farm to School team and partners from Public Health – Seattle & King County, Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network and Washington Environmental Council. Funds came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

See our Farm to School Toolkit or email us at for more information. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Inspecting livestock in the 21st Century

By:  Lynn Briscoe
Animal Services Division 

Our Livestock Inspection Program working at the Stockland Livestock Auction in Davenport recently hosted a few guests from Idaho's State Brand Department, Department of Agriculture and even the federal Department of Homeland Security.

WSDA's Kyle Schaffer demonstrates the new
system to Ken Wood of the Idaho Brand Board.
Why did they join us? Like many of our counterparts in neighboring states and nearby Canadian provinces, the representatives from Idaho and the federal government were interested in WSDA's new electronic system for tracking data collected during a livestock inspection.  

All this month, our Livestock Inspection Program has been working on this new system, created thanks to funding provided through the support of the Legislature and our partners in Washington's dairy and cattle industries. The application that was developed allows our brand inspectors to collect the same inspection data they always have, but store it electronically on a
computer tablet, rather than jotting it down on a paper form.

WSDA's Kris Budde enters livestock
data into a computer tablet
This makes the information easier to store and easier to retrieve. Modernizing this data collection not only creates efficiencies within the program, but also enhances the department’s animal disease traceability efforts. It updates methods and processes by which livestock movement information is collected, stored, and easily made accessible to animal health officials. That would be critical during an animal disease outbreak.  

The representatives and board members from the Idaho's brand and agriculture departments joined us July 26 and 27 to watch the new system in action and take part in its live implementation during the scheduled sale. 

If you are at a public livestock market and see our staff using a computer tablet, feel free to take a look at the process they are following. It is an historic change for the agency and animal disease traceability in our state. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Celebrating Farmers Market Week Aug. 2-8

By: Laura Raymond
Small Farm Direct Marketing 

Washington State joins a national celebration of farmers markets with a proclamation by Governor Inslee that this is Washington Farmers Market Week. That’s a proclamation I can get behind, though I hardly need an excuse to celebrate farmers markets. 

A customer visits the Columbia City
Farmers Market in Seattle.
Like many people, I Iove the visual splendor of farm tables piled high with vibrant displays. I enjoy the happy energy of kids munching on ripe fruit while they bob to a market band. It’s fun to catch up with friends and neighbors as we bump into each other with market bags full of produce, flowers, cheeses, meats, baked goods, pastas, eggs, jams, salsas, ciders, and other tasty treasures.

That experience is a celebration in itself yet, as farmers market organizations suggest, “there’s more to market” than just the weekly festivities.  
EBT cards are accepted at many markets.
Farmers markets supply a host of benefits that improve quality of life for us all. They support rural livelihoods and preserve farmland. They stimulate local economies by supporting artisans, prepared food businesses, and other vendors while also promoting sales for neighboring businesses. Market sales in Washington are estimated at nearly $45 million dollars in 2014, money that circulates longer in the local economy. Farmers markets are vibrant community spaces where we connect with friends and neighbors. They even make us all a little bit healthier with better access to fresh foods. Nearly all Washington markets accept federal nutrition benefits.

In my work at WSDA Small Farms and Direct Marketing, I get a firsthand view of how important farmers markets are to family farms of all types. More than 1,200 Washington farmers sell their products at 160 farmers markets across our state, in big cities and small rural communities. 

Farmers markets allow customers to
meet the people growing their food.
For new farmers, farmers markets provide a crucial entry point to introduce their products, build a customer base, and plant a first foothold to grow their business. Even for long-established farms, farmers markets can be a crucial element in their success. The young man who sold me blueberries at my local market this past week is the fifth generation on his family’s Skagit Valley farm and farmers markets are a primary way they sell their produce. At farmers markets, farmers sell directly to their consumers, earning full value for their products. This is especially important at a time when so many farmers are being extraordinarily challenged by the drought and hot weather.

Farmers markets offer a unique opportunity for producers and customers to talk with each other face-to-face. Customers can share their preferences and learn all about what goes into getting such a wonderful array of products to market.  

There’s a lot to a farmers market, and a lot to celebrate. Washington Farmers Market Week is a great time to show a little love for your nearest market and its farmers. Washington State Farmers Market Association’s directory  can help you find a market near you.