Friday, December 29, 2017

WSDA’s 2017 year in review

Mike Louisell

This past year, Washington escaped the devastating wildfires, flooding and droughts affecting other states. But 2017 was still a busy year for WSDA. Here are a few highlights from our year.

New ways of serving the ag industry 
The agency’s primary purpose is to serve the agriculture industry, and sometimes that means we need to upgrade our gear.
This past year, one major upgrade was the completion of a 4,800 square-foot greenhouse, replacing an older, smaller greenhouse that had been in use for years. Located at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser, the new WSDA greenhouse features improved temperature and irrigation controls and allows nurseries to offer virus-tested, disease-free stock to orchardists and fruit producers across the U.S. and for export markets.

Bug history made in August
In August, we made an astonishing discovery – an active gypsy moth nest hidden among some shrubbery in a Pierce County community. It is the first instance ever of anyone detecting live female gypsy moths actively laying eggs.
Altogether, about 100 live females and 95 males gypsy moths were caught in this one location. While that was not a record for total seasonal catches, finding an active nest made for an historic discovery for our gypsy moth program.

Travelling for agriculture 
WSDA Director Derek Sandison is a great believer in getting out and meeting with those involved in agriculture. Some meetings were close to home, such as his participation in the South King County Agriculture Town Hall. There, Director Sandison joined 4-H coordinators, WSU researchers and local government leaders to discuss ways to support farming near an urban community.

But some trips took the director out of state, such as the trade mission to Mexico led by Governor Jay Inslee. The delegates visited both Guadalajara and Mexico City, touring markets, meeting with government officials and generally demonstrating the importance of Mexico to Washington agricultural exports.

New programs 
This year two new programs at the agency got under way – the Produce Safety Program and the Industrial Hemp Pilot program.
The Produce Safety Program was created in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, which provided a 5-year grant to fund the program. Its primary mission is to help producers in our state comply with the new requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Also gearing up in 2017 was the new Industrial Hemp Pilot, created after the legislature allocated $145,000 for WSDA to launch the new program. The first hemp growing licenses were issued this past spring. However, funding for the program only covered the first year and the seven licenses issued do not cover operational costs. The program faces an uncertain future for 2018.

Consumer protection 
WSDA’s Weights and Measures inspectors did more than the usual, but critical, monitoring of gas pumps and scales for accuracy. The team also collaborated with financial institutions to combat fraud by inspecting fuel dispensers for credit card skimmers, which can steal credit and debit card information from unsuspecting consumers.

Also this year, the inspectors began placing fuel rate stickers on gas pumps during their routine inspections, following a legislative mandate to inform consumers of taxes on fuel. The current total taxes drivers pay when filling up includes 67.8 cents per gallon for state and federal taxes on gasoline and 73.8 cents for gallon for diesel.

Fair time 
WSDA typically staffs a public outreach booth at one county fair most summers, but this past year, the agency set up booths at three fairs across the state, including the Washington State Fair in Pierce County, the Central Washington Fair in Yakima County, and the Evergreen State Fair in Snohomish County.
Director Sandison visited all three locations, as did state veterinarian Dr. Brian Joseph and numerous agency employees. Director Sandison also attended the Grant County Fair, where he was interviewed for the television show Washington Grown.

Looking ahead to 2018
Much anticipated by both staff and stakeholders, WSDA is just starting the process of updating its website, which hasn’t been revised in at least a decade.

In Eastern Washington, keep an eye out for newly designed apple maggot signs, which WSDOT will install this spring.

WSDA will be monitoring the all-important 2018 Farm Bill, working with members of Washington’s congressional delegation and our partners at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Stay connected with WSDA
These highlights barely scratch the surface of the work that the agency has done in 2017. To stay up with the latest news, follow us in 2018 through this blog, on Facebook or Twitter, and now on Instagram.