Friday, September 25, 2015

Washington State Fair opportunity to ‘tell our story’

Communications Office

In the age of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, is a booth at a fair or trade show still relevant for government agencies to reach the public and stay connected? While many choose social media to learn what’s happening, the WSDA booth at this year’s Washington State Fair in Puyallup presented another way of sharing information about our programs that support agriculture and a sound environment.

Volunteers from many WSDA programs talked with fairgoers about the threat of gypsy moth, ways to protect bees, and how large agriculture is in the Evergreen State. It was a perfect setting for these topics, situated as we were in the Ag-Hort/Floral Tent, among giant pumpkins, gorgeous flowers and artfully-constructed displays presented by Washington State Grange members.

Rickie Lehto and Jeff Britt at booth
“The majority of visitors I met were interested in the noxious weed materials and our board reflecting the different commodities throughout the state,” said Amber Robertson, Human Resource consultant and agency recruiter. “I thought our booth was very well done and had a variety of different reference materials.”

Director Derek Sandison staffs the booth.
A USDA booth adjacent to ours stressed the importance of keeping various pest insects, plant diseases and animal health threats contained. In that regard, both USDA and WSDA had information about avian influenza and how to “spread the word, protect your birds” with information for bird owners, consumers and veterinarians.

WSDA field veterinarians have been visiting various fairs across the state to test poultry and other birds for avian influenza and other diseases, even fairs that have opted out of testing in the past.

Tacoma visitor at fair since 1934!
WSDA also showed its support for 4-H and FFA. WSDA fairs program coordinator Henri Gonzales accompanied Fairs Commissioner Debbie Adolphsen to present ribbons. The commissioner evaluated the youth organizations for their skills in grooming animals, keeping stalls and pens clean and decorated, their showmanship and ability to discuss their projects.

“We met so many good kids dedicated to their animals and really enjoyed the beef exhibitors for being so friendly and helpful,” Henri said.

Many visitors told us they have been to the fair numerous  times over the years. One woman from Tacoma told us she has come to the fair every year since 1934. Here's hoping she stops by our booth again next year. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Avian influenza – spread the word, protect your birds

Dr. Joe Baker

Fall is coming and with it a renewed risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. But first, some background on why this is such a serious cause for concern.

In the fall of 2014, Washington became the first state to have flocks infected with highly-pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. When the outbreak was over, four small, non-commercial poultry flocks, a game bird farm and a falconry were all affected.

None of our large commercial poultry operations became infected, but they still suffered as a result of the actions required in response to the infected flocks. The ability of the commercial operations to export poultry and poultry products was hampered. In one case, tens of thousands of day-old chicks were destroyed because Canada refused them entry after we established our first quarantine zone around two small, non-commercial flocks in Benton County.

As this illustrates, all poultry owners in Washington are part of the poultry industry, and disease in even small flocks can directly or indirectly affect flocks large and small throughout the state. It is vital that all poultry owners recognize this and take the steps to protect their birds and others, too.

The cases of avian influenza in Washington and neighboring states in the fall were the tip of what turned out to be an iceberg of historic proportions, as highly pathogenic avian influenza found its way into commercial turkey and layer operations in the Midwest, creating a massive animal disease outbreak and control response. Federal costs alone are expected to reach a billion dollars while the disease and depopulation led to the loss of more than 10 percent of our nation’s layer hen inventory and more than 7 percent of our turkey inventory. It will take at least two years for the poultry industry to recover and some producers will be put out of business permanently.

Risk returns with migration cycle

The risk that avian influenza will return to our state rides on the wings of migratory waterfowl that have once again begun to arrive from northern latitudes to spend the winter here. Unfortunately, these waterfowl species tend to carry avian influenza viruses with no ill effects, and can spread the disease to other susceptible birds through their droppings. Particularly vulnerable are the small hobby, exhibition, layer and organic flocks scattered all over our state, where the birds are allowed to spend significant time outside. 
Disinfectant for footgear outside
a bird flu town hall meeting.

The Animal Services Division of WSDA is trying to raise awareness of the threat HPAI poses to all poultry, and the biosecurity measures that flock owners should be putting in place to help protect their birds from the disease. Check out our updated website at for information to help bird owners, no matter how large or small your flock.

There is no vaccine currently authorized for birds and there is no treatment for the disease, so flocks hit with HPAI must be euthanized in order to prevent the virus spreading. That is why prevention through good biosecurity is so important.

I encourage you to visit our webpage, look through the materials and formulate YOUR plan for protecting your birds this fall and winter. As ever, if you have questions or need help, you can also email or call 800-606-3056.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Following an apple’s journey into the box

Kathy Davis
Communications Office

When you grab that pretty, shiny apple on the store shelf, you may not imagine the journey it’s taken to get there. In the packing house alone, apples travel a path that illustrates modern agricultural practices.

Apples aren’t just a Washington icon, like salmon, coffee and airplanes. They’re also a $2 billion industry producing millions of apples each year. Those apples all need to be harvested, sorted, packed and inspected.  

Last month I got an eye-opening education when I toured apple and potato packing facilities with Ken Tuttle, supervisor of WSDA’s Quincy Fruit and Vegetable Inspection office. As primarily a food consumer who’s relatively new to the agricultural industry, I was struck by the movement of the process.

From the large wooden bins in which the apples arrive in the warehouse, their first step is a bath. Each bin is lifted mechanically onto a skid that lowers it into a pool of water to wash the apples. With nose close, you can smell the chlorine (think swimming pool) that sanitizes.

Drifting and spinning

The water floats the fruit out of their field bins, becoming a river of apples drifting off on their way. They’re dried by spinning on soft, covered rollers and being heated in an enclosed metal container. 

Why are store apples so shiny? Because they’re sprayed with a fine mist of food grade wax.

They roll along, randomly splitting off onto three belts that run past workers who visually check for defective fruit. Along with experienced human eyes, technology helps sort. The apples are also whisked into a computerized machine where a camera and scale determines size and grade.

Placement onto trays and into boxes is largely, but not totally, automated. Humans help make sure each round fruit is properly positioned. Colorful shipping boxes are stacked into tall, wide blocks on pallets. Stacks await shipment to such destinations as Portland, Brooklyn and China.

Storing year-round

Apple harvesting occurs over a relatively short period, yet demand is year-round. So some of the crop is stored in a controlled environment to maintain freshness and allow for later packing.

These rooms look like over-sized racket ball courts with those big wooden bins of apples piled to the ceiling. Along with being chilled, the oxygen level is reduced in the room. Before workers enter, the atmosphere is adjusted to replace life-sustaining oxygen.

These packing facilities are daily working environments for our WSDA fruit and vegetable inspectors. For someone who resides in a cubicle most days, it was an eye-popping new world. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tips for hiring pest control professionals

Joel Kangiser

WSDA is getting reports that someone claiming to be a pest control professional is canvassing neighborhoods in Kitsap County, using high pressure sales tactics to sell pest treatments that could be unnecessary and asking for bank account information from the people he has contacted.

This person may represent a legitimate business; we don’t know. Here’s our advice -- don’t be pressured into buying a pest control service before you’re ready. Pests that can attack your home, such as carpenter ants and termites, are rarely a problem requiring immediate resolution. So you should have time to get other bids and do your own research.

Here are three tips from WSDA to consider before hiring a pest control professional:

  • Thoroughly check out the person or business before providing any personal information or purchasing any service. 
  • Get multiple estimates if you need pest control work done.
  • Pest control companies and their employees who apply pesticides must be licensed by WSDA, so visit WSDA’s pesticide license database or call the WSDA licensing office at (360) 902-1937 to verify that a business or individual is properly licensed.
Finally, you can always call your local Better Business Bureau or the Washington State Pest Management Association, a private industry association, at 1- (800) 253-3836 to get more information about a particular company.

Pests can be a serious problem, but don’t let anyone  push you into paying for services or signing a contract before you are fully confident and comfortable with the company and the service they propose to provide.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Promoting Washington agriculture overseas

Communications Office

In a small sandwich shop on a narrow Tokyo street, the cashiers and servers now sport T-shirts that say “I love Washington fries,” mementos of a recent afternoon when a few visitors dropped by to share some spuds with surprised customers expecting nothing more than a sandwich.
Gov. Jay Inslee hands out free fries in Tokyo.

The visitors included Gov. Jay Inslee, WSDA Director Derek Sandison, and members of the state’s Potato Commission, all in Tokyo as part of a 9-day trade mission that wrapped up Sept.5. The Governor-led trade mission made visits to Seoul, South Korea, Kobe, Japan and Tokyo. While other industries were also being promoted, the ag delegation focused on blueberries, potatoes, and wine.

Korea and Japan are important countries for Washington agriculture. Japan is the state’s leading market for agricultural exports and Korea the 5th largest market. Led by Director Sandison, the ag delegates visited the leaders of several key businesses in both countries that import or process Washington agricultural products for local consumers, expressing their appreciation for the trade that is already taking place and interest in greater trade to come.

Again and again, delegates heard the value that consumers place on Washington agricultural products, from the cherries that fly off the shelves of the busy Costco Korea when they’re in season, to the chipping potatoes that can’t keep up with demand of Japanese potato chip processors. Delegates also gleaned information that can help inform marketing decisions later. 
Honey butter chips, a popular
Korean snackfood.

One example, consumers in Korea were recently in a frenzy for a potato chip company's  honey butter flavored chips, with lines for the chips so long, some stores placed two-bag limits on customers. The craze has increased demand for chipping potatoes as competing companies looked for their own flavor angle, and this boost in demand could spell benefits for Washington potatoes in the future. 

The team also met with government officials in both countries to raise market access issues. For blueberries, the goal was pressing for access to South Korea. Fresh Oregon blueberries were allowed into the country beginning in 2012, but Washington is still waiting for similar access.

Frozen blueberries, Costco Korea
In Japan, Washington potatoes are permitted only for part of the year. Washington potato farmers, as well as food processors in Japan, would like year-round access for our spuds.

Dancers at a reception for the
Washington State delegation
Government led trade missions can open doors for delegates that might not be available to them otherwise, providing them a chance to raise trade concerns at the highest levels. The trips also provide opportunities for potential buyers to meet producers and importers, making the kinds of connections that can translate into lucrative business relationships later.

Washington exports about 30 percent of its agricultural products, so keeping markets open and importers happy is important. Trade missions can be an important way to do this. You can track future trade missions, and visits from our overseas customers, at the WSDA International Marketing Program webpage, where all such events are listed. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Washington prevails in “Fighting Hunger” food drive competition

Kim Eads

“Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation” was again the theme of this year’s friendly competition between the Washington State Department of Agriculture and our Oregon Department of Agriculture counterparts.

The two departments together collected more than 190,000 pounds of donated food, easily surpassing the 85,000 pounds donated in 2014.

Northwest Farmers Fighting Hunger was developed three years ago as a partnership between the dairy industry, supermarkets, food banks and departments of agriculture in Washington and Oregon. The partnership increases awareness of the challenges families face when children who typically rely on school lunches are out of the classroom for the summer.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison, center, displays the food drive trophy. 
All foods donated to this drive benefit Washington and Oregon residents in need.

The WSDA Food Assistance Program thanks all our agency co-workers across the state who helped in this effort, and everyone who donated.