Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It’s already Christmas, if you’re a tree

By Mike Louisell
Communications Office

Kids might not be counting down the days before Christmas yet. But for state export inspectors, November means Christmas tree season. Frank Curtin and Scott Brooks from WSDA’s Plant Services Program recently inspected a shipment of trees from Snowshoe Evergreen in Orting.

Curtin said about 2,800 trees were shipped to Mexico.
“It was pretty cool because they were using a helicopter to fly the trees to the loading area,” he said. “The trees were then mechanically shaken for about 20 seconds, a requirement for export to Mexico. Then trees are stacked, bailed and loaded into trucks.”

See the video Curtin shot of flying trees, below

Washington is the fourth largest producer of Christmas trees in the U.S. Many of those trees end up in Hawaii, California, Canada, Mexico, Asia or military bases worldwide.

Christmas trees bound for export must be inspected by WSDA. Overseas customers don’t want any dangerous pests or diseases hitchhiking on our trees. Inspections begin well before the holidays approach. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

New website helps military veterans get on the farm

Brent Barnes, Pesticide Management Division

For some of us military veterans, returning to civilian life is a transition that requires a little help.

Brent Barnes is assistant director
of WSDA's
Pesticide Management Division
Before I left the U.S. Army, I had the chance to participate in a wonderful transition program called Northwest Edge that helps veterans enter Washington State and federal employment. This led to a Washington State Veterans Fellowship, a number of informational interviews and job shadowing opportunities and, finally to the position I currently fill, for which I am very grateful.

But not every veteran wants to work for the state government. Some want to farm.

WSDA had been hearing about efforts around the country to help veterans transition into agriculture. We would occasionally get calls for information about organizations involved in this type of work.

While there was interest in sharing this information, most websites I found focused on recruiting veterans for vacant agency positions or linking to benefits available to veterans based on their honorable service. I believed what WSDA needed was a web resource for those who wanted to become farmers, ranchers, or find another way to enter the industry that we support.

The result is - a website sharing links for a range of resources that might be useful to a military veteran seeking a future in agriculture.

Creating this website is one result of WSDA’s interest and intent to help veterans.

We can now provide an online resource that I hope will serve as a clearinghouse for subjects such as assistance for beginning farmers, small farm loans and grants, education, ecotherapy and mentorships.

I hope this small effort will help those who want to enter the agriculture industry, whether in Washington or anywhere transitioning service members relocate. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Safe pesticide use, growing safe foods stressed in new WSDA contracts

Mike Louisell
Communications Office

A federal contract to train more farm laborers to safely apply pesticides and another project aimed to improve good agricultural practices at farms growing specialty crops were awarded to WSDA recently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the two projects as part of its annual specialty crop block grant efforts to support primarily fruit and vegetable growers.

Ofelio Borges, WSDA’s technical services and education program manager in Yakima,
Assessing air speed and direction of pesticides with an airblast sprayer
will direct a $240,000 grant to train workers to safely handle and apply pesticides. 

WSDA has long been recognized for its Farmworker Pesticide Education Program, but there always has been a waiting list to attend workshops. 

The USDA grant will allow us to increase the number of workshops for hands-on handler and sprayer application equipment best management practices. Course dates are generally available early each year. They fill quickly!

WSDA plans to hire another trainer and buy equipment, including an air-blast sprayer and trailer and a vertical patternator, which measures the distribution of pesticides. Applicators will learn how to manipulate wind speed/volume and direction and properly calibrate equipment to make sure pesticides fall on target.

The demand for training continues to grow. This contract is welcomed by a host of industry groups, including the Washington Growers League, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association and Washington Friends of Farms & Forests.

Questions: Contact Ofelio Borges at or (509) 249-6939.

Outreach efforts for producing safe foods
Tricia Kovacs, WSDA’s lead for Small Farm Direct Marketing and Farm to School efforts, is the project manager for a $249,000 USDA grant. Her team will launch Part II of the Bridging the GAPs project, designed to help fruit and vegetable growers understand and obtain voluntary certification for USDA Good Agricultural Practices on their farms. Many food buyers require GAP certification.

The funding extends the initial Bridging the GAPs project, also funded by a WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, that helped make food safety planning, implementation and certification more accessible. That grant resulted in the development of the Bridging the GAPs Farm Guide.

Now, over the next 2.5 years, WSDA will continue to conduct on-farm food safety workshops, provide technical assistance and act as a resource for food safety best practices and regulations, including information on FDA Produce Safety Rules.

WSDA workshop on Good Agricultural Practices
The project team will seek farmers who have been through a successful GAP audit and are willing to share their experience with others preparing for certification.

The new round of Bridging the GAPs workshop series started in late October at Viva Farms and Skagit Valley College in partnership with Washington State University extension offices. The event involved a farm food safety tour, live demonstrations, Q&A with WSDA auditor staff and technical assistance on how to write a food safety plan. The event received an extensive writeup by long-time agriculture and food safety writer Cookson Beecher in the Food Safety News.

Questions? Contact Karen Ullmann at or 256-6151.