Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bringing together women of the seafood industry to connect producers and buyers

Hannah Street

A trade mission organized by WSDA’s International Marketing Program and the USDA Agricultural Trade Office in Shanghai brought together women leaders in the seafood industry from both China and the U.S. to discuss the logistics of potential business relationships.

The trade mission group poses at the National Oyster Company on June 23, 2017.
The group of a dozen mostly women met Friday at the agency’s main office in Olympia for a round-table discussion that included representatives from Washington shellfish operations and potential buyers from China. Afterwards, the group paid visits to local shellfish farms and operations. The previous day, WSDA staff had partnered with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) to bring the group of buyers to meet with women in other seafood industry sectors in the Seattle area.

China is one of Washington state’s top agriculture trading partners. In 2016, China imported $683 million worth of Washington food and agriculture products, with seafood, wheat and french fries topping their buying list.

Interest between the two groups at the Friday’s meeting was mutual. Producers are eager to expand their reach, and there’s a fresh food market in China with room for the unique flavors of Pacific Coast shellfish.

“Chinese consumers want high-quality shellfish and more of it,” said Ren Chen, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Shanghai Yiguo E-commerce Company.

Challenges include cultural differences and variances of shellfish knowledge that will test marketing and distribution skills. For example, one attendee explained testing practices differ between American and Chinese regulatory groups because consumers in both countries eat seafood differently.

Dungeness crabs, for example, have encountered testing holdup because Americans eat crab meat but Chinese eat the entire crab.

The group discusses trade and challenges women face in the shellfish industry
during a roundtable meeting on June 23, 2017.
The Chinese businesses included consumer grocery platforms and large-scale, regulatory entities with mainstream e-commerce and retail clients. Washington companies included local shellfish giants, like Taylor Shellfish, and niche companies like Set & Drift Shellfish which markets Fjordlux oysters.

Regardless of business model, the Chinese representatives emphasized hyper-fresh and hyper-available products. Smooth importing is crucial; getting seafood from the docks to stores is one battle. Familiarizing consumers with Pacific Northwest seafood products is another.

“Chinese are not very sophisticated about oysters, and there isn’t as much knowledge about Washington oysters,” said Helen Gao of Shanghai Gfresh.

To increase demand of Washington oysters in an overseas market dominated by the economy and familiarity of French oysters, education, like taste cards with flavor profiles and taste testing, is key.

In addition to product acclimation, marketing and selling the imported seafood must fit seamlessly with the Chinese consumer’s way of life. Americans do most grocery shopping once per week, whereas Chinese do their grocery shopping daily, at most going three days between trips, said Gao.

Another difference is that American markets can handle large shipments of shellfish because Americans buy large quantities, especially frozen products. Chinese representatives agreed, however, that their consumers would want smaller, consumer-friendly packaging within large shipments.

“It was amazing to see so many women in leadership positions come together to discuss these issues,” said Rianne Perry, manager of the International Marketing Program.

Representative from USDA, WSDA and ASMI pose in Seattle on June 22, 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A toast to our dairies: Last week of June Dairy Month

Kirk Robinson
Deputy Director

Dairy farmers across the U.S. are in the final week of June Dairy Month, a time to publicize the important role the industry brings to our economy and food supply. It’s a time to recognize hard-working dairy farmers and busy cows bringing us a bevy of foods ranging from milk and cheese to butter, ice cream and yogurt.

I was raised in Grays Harbor County and worked alongside family members operating a dairy and crop farm. I now represent WSDA on our state’s Dairy Products Commission. And when I joined WSDA in 2003, I was an inspector with our Dairy Nutrient Management Program. I personally know about the long hours dairy families and their employees endure.

According to a June Dairy Month proclamation issued by Gov. Jay Inslee, 27 of Washington’s 39 counties have operating dairies, providing jobs and supporting other businesses in their communities.

On an average day, 12 million gallons of milk are consumed in the United States. In our state, 300,000 dairy cows produce enough milk for Washingtonians, as well as serving export markets in 21 countries.

WSDA support and regulation

WSDA plays a key role in supporting Washington’s dairy community – the state’s second largest commodity valued at more than $1 billion a year. Washington is always among the top 10 states for milk production. The industry estimates the economic impact of dairying in Washington at more than $3.2 billion. Dairy exports alone represent $317 million in economic impact to our state.

Our Food Safety Program inspectors ensure the sanitation of dairy farms and milk processors, and the Animal Health team strives to protect the health of herds. Our Dairy Nutrient Management Program works with dairy operators on the proper use of farm nutrients and our International Marketing team, in cooperation with the dairy community, promotes dairy exports across the globe. It also was a topic during our recent trade mission to Mexico.

So here’s a toast—with a glass of milk, of course—to more than 400 Washington dairy families and farms who contribute to the success of our agricultural communities and our state’s economy. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mexico mission confirms value of trading partners

Hector Castro
Communications Director

At Guadalajara’s Mercado de Abastos (supply market), the third largest wholesale market in Mexico, countless boxes of Washington apples were stacked neatly in cool, clean stalls.

Many of the boxes containing crisp, plump apples sport labels created by the importers, but also place names familiar to any Washingtonian like Chelan,  Wenatchee, Toppenish, and Yakima.

El Mercado de Abastos, Guadalajara.
“It makes me a little homesick to see all these growing regions I know so well,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said after touring the bustling market during a recent trade mission to Mexico last month.

At a national level, Mexico is the third largest market for U.S. agriculture products. For Washington, it is our 7th largest ag export market. Washington exported $313 million worth of food and ag products there last year. Mexico is also a primary market for our dairy products and apples, just one reason WSDA joined the weeklong trade mission in mid May with Gov. Jay Inslee and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.

Our participation in the trade mission showed how much our state’s ag industry values the important partnerships we have in Mexico. It also let us see first-hand the successes some of our state’s commodity commissions have had in connecting with local businesses as they meet the appetites of local consumers.

Sister state similarities
Director Sandison meeting with officials of the
Jalisco Department of Rural Development. 
In Guadalajara, our delegation met officials with the Jalisco Department of Rural Development, the counterpart to WSDA. Jalisco is Mexico’s most agriculturally productive state and, like Washington, derives a large percentage of its revenue from farming, ranching and food production.

Jalisco state officials expressed great interest in Washington dairy operations and the advanced technology used on many of our dairies. The groups also discussed potential opportunities to exchange ideas that would further strengthen ties between Washington and Jalisco, which has had a Sister-State relationship since 1996.

Robust ag trade
Director Sandison at Mercado de Abastos,
Guadalajara, Jalisco. 
During the tour of the Mercado de Abastos, delegates met several importers who ship large volumes of Washington produce, including apples, pears and cherries in season, for sale to local restaurants, markets and consumers.

The presence of Washington apples, in particular, has grown tremendously since they were first permitted to be sold in Mexico following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994.

Washington currently ships more apples to Mexico than any other country.
Scott Kinney, CEO, Dairy Farmers of WA
inspects cheese at a market in Mexico.
The bulk of the trip was spent in Mexico City for tours of local businesses carrying Washington agricultural products and meetings with both U.S. and Mexican government officials. Director Sandison also joined Gov. Inslee in some of his meetings with Mexican government officials.

Insights gained from all these meetings provided useful information regarding market demands in Mexico, and both the challenges and opportunities that could come from exporting there.

Our dairy industry partners also toured a milk processing plant in Mexico City that demonstrated an attention to quality control rivalling facilities here in the U.S.

Questions about NAFTA
It was during the trade mission that the White House announced its intent to initiate discussions on updating the 23-year-old agreement. The news prompted several questions from local media and Mexican officials. On the whole, there was broad agreement that NAFTA could use updating.
Director Sandison, Gov. Jay Inslee and
Commerce Director Brian Bonlender.

“NAFTA has been good to Washington agriculture, but an update could provide additional benefits,” Sandison said. “Particularly if we stay focused on broad principles around trade.”

The trip would not have been as fruitful if not for the participation of the Washington Apple Commission, the Dairy Farmers of Washington, and the U.S. Dairy Export Council for allowing WSDA to use their representatives in Mexico to coordinate meetings and market tours.

 “Washington currently enjoys good relations with America’s neighbor to the south,” Director Sandison said. “This trade mission confirmed for me that our ties are strong and even more opportunities exist to benefit farmers both in Washington and Mexico.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Want to prevent salmonella illness? Don’t snuggle the poultry

Hannah Street

Recent cases of salmonella illnesses in Washington state serve as a reminder of the importance of practicing good hygiene when handling or working around poultry.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health reported 16 confirmed cases of salmonella originating from live poultry in a dozen counties on both sides of the state. Though no deaths have been reported, five people were hospitalized.

Our local cases are part of a larger, multistate outbreak of human salmonella linked to live poultry. As with the Washington state cases, those who became sick reported obtaining poultry from feed supply stores, hatcheries, relatives or from the web.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can be found on live poultry dropping, feathers, feet and beaks. People become infected when those germs make contact with the mouth area.
Certain factors can speed the spread of salmonella, such as the inclination of young children to handle ducklings and chicks, which are in turn more likely to shed salmonella bacteria in their droppings. Since children are less likely than adults to wash their hands after handling these animals, it is vital that adults supervise children to ensure they practice good hygiene when handling poultry.

Medical attention
Symptoms of salmonella in humans include fever, diarrhea, and stomach pain. These symptoms tend to show up within three days of infection, and while symptoms can go away on their own, severe cases can require medical attention.
Healthy poultry can carry salmonella, so it’s important to maintain proper care of and hygiene around poultry.

Although outbreaks are becoming more common as more people are getting backyard flocks, salmonella isn’t inevitable if you live or work around poultry. Diligent hygienic practices decrease the chances of contracting poultry-related illnesses.
The best defense is washing hands with soap and water after handling. And while poultry, and baby chicks in particular, can invite affectionate handling, never nuzzle or kiss live poultry.
Other prevention methods recommended by the Centers for Disease Control include:
Keeping pens outdoors, as well as any equipment used around poultry.
Thoroughly cooking and handling eggs from hens.
Refraining from eating or drinking around poultry.
Supervision of young children around live poultry.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control webpage, Keeping Backyard Chickens, for more information salmonella and poultry.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Connecting farmers and buyers in the Methow Valley

Katie Lynd 
WSDA Regional Markets 

Recently, more than 30 farmers, chefs, school nutrition workers and others gathered together in the Methow Valley to connect, tour local farms and discuss the challenges they all face in the local agriculture region.

The gathering was the Methow Valley Farm-to-Chef & Shelf Farm Tour and Business Networking Event, held on May 8. The project was a partnership between WSDA’s Food Assistance and Regional Markets program, or FARM, and the Methow Conservancy’s Agricultural Program. The group included small to mid-sized diversified farmers, buyers from restaurants, schools and resorts as well as retailers.

Stina Book explains the grafting process for fruit trees at Booth Canyon Orchard.

The WSDA FARM Team’s Local Buying Mission Project aim is to connect Washington specialty crop farmers with interested buyers, and educate both sides on the components of a successful buying and selling relationship.

Participants visited two farms to learn about their unique marketing outlets within the Methow region and the Seattle area. One was Booth Canyon Orchards, which has more than 55 varieties of organic tree-ripened pears and apples that they sell into the Seattle area market. The other was Willowbrook Organic Farm, a diversified row crop operation specializing in serving the Methow Valley market with produce ranging from micro-greens and root crop vegetables to value-added sauerkraut varieties. These farm stops highlighted the diversity of farming opportunities in the Methow and got buyers out on the farm to see the grit and hard work that goes into daily farming operations.

The afternoon wrapped up with a group discussion on the opportunities and challenges in sourcing and selling in the Methow Valley.

During the discussion, the group explored reasons why farmers in the Methow choose to sell outside of the region, with some farmers explaining that it is harder to make multiple small deliveries in a fairly large region like the Methow Valley than selling in the Seattle area, where they can get a higher price and sell larger volumes.

Buyers expressed interest in sourcing from Methow producers and their commitment to finding innovative ideas to make it work.
Participants sample kraut at Willowbrook Organic Farm’s commercial kitchen.

The farmers attending the event were happily surprised by the support they have in the region and expressed gratitude towards having shared values of local food in their community.

The day concluded with additional time for participants to network, establish new relationships and explore potential sales. You can visit for more information about the diversity of farmers and the products they offer in the Methow Valley.