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.