Thursday, December 20, 2018

Contagious poultry disease in California jumps from backyards to a commercial flock

Dr. Dana R Dobbs
WSDA Field Veterinarian, Avian Health Lead

The vND virus can infect many bird species including chickens,
 turkeys, ducks, geese, and game birds. Infected birds shed
 large amounts of virus in respiratory fluids and feces.
An outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) in several Southern California backyard flocks has advanced to a commercial flock, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed last week.

Disease not detected in Washington

So far, no backyard flocks or commercial poultry operations in Washington have detected diseased birds associated with this most recent outbreak of the deadly poultry disease.

Virulent Newcastle disease is not a food safety concern.  No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products.  Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat.  In very rare instances, people working directly with sick birds can become infected with mild symptoms, such as conjunctivitis.

Eradication efforts

In California, virulent Newcastle disease has continued to spread since in was detected in May.

There had been 234 cases involving backyard birds in California this year despite eradication efforts by USDA-APHIS and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Last week, USDA confirmed the presence of vND in a commercial chicken flock in Riverside County, California. The sick flock was completely depopulated within 24 hours of the positive finding. It was first case found in commercial poultry since 2003.

Keep virulent Newcastle disease out of Washington

Because the disease spreads quickly and represents a major economic risk to the poultry industry, WSDA asks local poultry growers and those with backyard flocks to keep their guard up.

One of the most likely pathways for the disease to find its way into Washington is a pet bird such as a parrot, said Washington State Veterinarian Brian Joseph. Exotic birds often carry the disease without visible symptoms. 

Poultry owners and veterinarians should be familiar with the clinical signs and actions to take if the disease is suspected. Report any cases to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056.

How can I protect my flock?

Virulent Newcastle Disease (previously Exotic Newcastle Disease) is a viral disease that affects all species of birds. Its primary mode of transmission is aerosols and / or direct contact with infected birds and their saliva or feces. The disease has a rapid onset, with an average of 5 days post exposure, and can be fatal. Besides respiratory secretions, the virus can be found in bedding, contaminated food / water, or on farm equipment and clothing. Therefore, it is essential that all flock owners have sound biosecurity practices in place.

Clinical signs to look for:

Sudden, unexplained death in the flock or high mortality
Coughing, sneezing, gasping for air
Depression, decreased appetite, green diarrhea
Changes in egg production
Paralysis of the legs or wings, twisting of the neck, tremors, circling
Swelling around the eyes and neck

** vND may cause transient conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) or flu like symptoms in humans. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to consume.

Don’t delay, report sick birds right away. 

WSDA Avian Health Program Sick Bird Hotline: 1-800-606-3056
Your local veterinarian
Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab (WADDL): 509-335-9696
Avian Health and Food Safety Lab (AHFSL): 253-445-4537

**Veterinarians - It is extremely important that oropharyngeal samples are submitted to the laboratory for an accurate diagnosis and the owner takes precautions to limit the spread of disease in the meantime. Please call Beth Reitz at the State Veterinarian’s office if you have questions or would like to discuss an unusual case: 360-725-5494.

Disease prevention starts with good biosecurity practices:

Purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) hatcheries or producers
Isolate new birds from the rest of the flock for at least 30 days. This also applies to birds returning from fairs or shows
Restrict traffic onto and off of your property and avoid visits to other poultry operations; especially during an outbreak
Have dedicated clothing and boots for use in the poultry area
Isolate sick birds and visit them last during daily operations such as feeding or egg collection
Disinfect clothes, boots, equipment and wash hands after handling poultry
Keep poultry houses and feeders clean and provide a fresh water source
While there is a vaccine for vND, it may not prevent the disease

Please visit USDA Bulletin for more information about virulent Newcastle disease.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Keeping cow poop out of the water

Chris McGann

Holstein dairy cows at Plowman Dairy in Yelm.
If the true test of Dairy Nutrient Management planning is how well a facility handles rain, you could say WSDA’s Kyrre Flege scored perfect conditions this week when he drove out to the Plowman Dairy near Yelm for a regular inspection.

The rain had been coming down hard overnight and it was still pouring when Flege pulled into the yard outside Matt Plowman’s barns. Two stout, square-headed, brown dogs, Milo and Otis, greeted Flege with friendly barks and tails wagging as he stepped out of the gray state vehicle into a wet gray day -- and a mud puddle.

Otis and Milo give a warm hello before an
 inspection at Plowman Dairy.  
WSDA regulators inspect dairy farms on roughly 18-month intervals in large part to make sure some of the site visits occur during the rainy months.

Mission accomplished.
“Today is going to be the wettest inspection this dairy has had in several years,” Flege said.

Keeping water clean and clear

Dairy Nutrient Management is a WSDA program established to protect water quality from livestock nutrient discharge -- or in other words, to make sure producers keep their cow poop out of the water.

The program helps educate those who don't know that they have to keep poop out of the water, and penalizes those who know the rules, but don’t follow them.

In addition to education and equitable enforcement of state and federal water quality laws, Dairy Nutrient Management aims to help maintain a healthy agricultural business climate through clear guidance and technical assistance.

The top concerns for managing dairy manure are preventing harmful bacteria from contaminating surface water and preventing nitrogen from seeping into ground water.

The risks
Matt Plowman talks with Kyrre Flege about some of the
 proactive measures he has taken to protect water quality.

Runoff contaminated by manure or feed from a dairy could allow fecal coliform bacteria, pathogens, nutrients and sediment to get into surface water such as creeks and rivers. It threatens human health, fish and other wildlife.

Most dairy manure is stored in lagoons during wet months and then applied as fertilizer during the growing season and when there is less risk that it will contaminate surface water as runoff.

Dairy farmers must also monitor soil nitrogen levels in their fields to make sure they only applied what is necessary for their crops. If the nitrogen load exceeds that need, it could seep into groundwater and create a public health risk.

“If you can’t show why your crops need it, most people would call it waste disposal,” Flege said.

Taking pride in the family farm

A well-cared-for Holstein dairy cow stays dry during a
December storm. 
Matt Plowman sauntered up to meet us outside, offering a generous smile and a handshake before beginning the two-hour assessment. The life-long farmer clearly takes pride in caring for his cows and maintaining the operation he took over from his father.

“I think these cows get treated better than people,” he said. “They each have a nutritionist, regular pedicures and weekly doctor visits.”

Plowman guided Flege through the well-kept facilities, past the feed bins, silage bunkers and through the calf barn to the three large lagoons in the field behind. A steady flow of foamy manure slurry poured into the first. They walked the perimeter and observed the pipes and pumps that kept moving manure through the system.

Kyrre Flege inspects the inflow at one of the Plowman Dairy
 manure lagoons. 
“Some people say we get milk as a byproduct of our manure production,” Plowman said with a wry grin.

Making a big splash

Dairy Nutrient Management is a good fit for Flege, the program’s lead regulator.

Flege majored in environmental resource management at Western Washington University. He has been with WSDA for five years. Building on his experience inspecting dairies in the Lynden area, he recently moved to Olympia, where he now supervises inspectors statewide and covers dairy inspections in Southwest Washington.

“I like the work,” Flege said. “It’s an opportunity to protect our resources and water quality. I feel like we can make a big difference.”

Relationships are key to providing effective support for
proper manure management.
Flege says the program’s regulatory role dovetails well with its mandate to provide education and support.

“We build relationships with producers and we work really hard to help them understand the value of protecting resources,” he said. “The industry’s future depends on being environmentally sustainable. There is no future for dairy farming if it comes at the cost of water quality.”

Record keeping

After the facility inspection, Flege joined Plowman in the office to review his record keeping – a cornerstone of the program’s mission.

The law says you can’t discharge pollution to surface or groundwater.

Matt Plowman helps Kyrre Flege understand the
geography of his farm.
“You have to keep records,” Flege said. “Complete records tell a story of how well you manage manure for your crops and the environment. Having a well maintained facility, sound record keeping, and following guidance in your Dairy Nutrient Management Plan will keep you in compliance."

Flege studied the application records, soil analysis results and detailed maps of the dairy. He asked questions to make sure he understood the topography and the drainage.

He explained his findings to Plowman, complimenting him on the safe nitrogen levels in his fields and properly functioning waste water management systems.

“Your lagoons are in great shape,” Flege said. “And the curbs you have in place are handling the rain on a very wet day.”

But Flege also noted that the heavy rain was overloading the driveway storm water runoff filter at the low end of the feed yard.

Before leaving, Flege promised to work with Plowman and help connect him to resources to upgrade that element.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Romaine returns: what you should know

Karla Salp

Romaine lettuce will soon be back on supermarket shelves.
Caesar salad lovers everywhere will soon be celebrating romaine lettuce’s return to local produce shelves. But with repeated recalls over the last several months, you may still have lingering concerns about buying romaine and other leafy greens. Here’s some food for thought.

What happened? 

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a food safety alert about romaine lettuce linked to a multi-state E. coli outbreak. The alert called on stores to remove all romaine lettuce from the shelves and warned the public against buying or eating any romaine.

Investigations subsequently identified the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California as the likely source of romaine lettuce that sickened 43 people. At this point, no common grower, distributor, or brand has been identified.

This week, CDC lifted its food safety alert for all lettuce, except romaine grown in the Central Coast region of California, where the romaine harvest is already over for the year.

What about Washington lettuce? 

If you are sure you are buying Washington-grown romaine lettuce, you can purchase it knowing our state is not believed to be part of the outbreak.

Can I eat lettuce from other states?


Romaine lettuce from the growing areas near Yuma, Arizona or Imperial County and Riverside County in California; the state of Florida; and Mexico is not linked to this outbreak.  Romaine that has been grown indoors has not been associated with the outbreak.

Romaine returning to the shelves should be labeled with a harvest location and date.

If you aren’t sure where the romaine lettuce was harvested, the CDC still recommends against eating it.

Is produce contamination only a problem on big farms? 


Although consumers can become ill from food grown on large or small farms, there are many safeguards in place to help protect consumers. Federal regulations require large farms to adopt practices that prevent the spread of foodborne illness – particularly in foods that are consumed raw, like lettuce. While farms defined as “very small” are not required to comply with these regulations, many take training and employ food safety practices anyway.

What is WSDA doing to keep Washington produce safe to eat?

In 2016, WSDA started a new Produce Safety Program to focus on providing training and education in partnership with Washington State University about how to improve produce safety on farms as well as comply with federal regulations. Here are upcoming trainings in Washington:
Yakima – 12/6 (FULL)
Tacoma – 1/29/19
Anacortes – 2/19/2019
Richland – 3/6/19

WSDA also offers a free, educational farm visits, called On-Farm Readiness Reviews, to help farms prepare for compliance with produce safety inspections that will begin next year.

What can I do improve the safety of the raw vegetables I eat? 

Here are tips from the CDC to reduce your risk from eating raw fruits and vegetables:

Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking, unless the package says the contents have been washed.
Keep fruits and vegetables separate from raw foods from animals, such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within 2 hours.
It is important to remember that eating produce provides many health benefits. Growers, processors, and the government take food safety seriously. You can help by taking simple steps like properly cooking and washing your produce to further reduce even the minimal risk that fresh produce presents.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Washington Grain Commission receives Director's Citation award

Chris McGann

Wheat was Washington's third largest crop in 2017 according to the USDA. 
WSDA awarded the Director's Citation to the Washington State Grain Commission this month to honor its 60 years of service to Washington’s agricultural community.

Proactive about meeting the challenges

Wheat farmers work in a challenging environment where issues such as weather, pests, disease, conservation, marketability and politics demand proactive attention.

At a recent awards ceremony in Portland, Oregon, WSDA Director Derek Sandison commended the Grain Commission, wheat farmers and the industry for supporting the research, marketing and education needed to address these challenges.

“I applaud the wheat industry and their partners for their dedication to ensure farming continues to be sustainable in our region,” Sandison said in a letter to the commission. “Through the continuous efforts of the staff, commissioners, growers and partners, I am certain that the wheat industry will have a positive effect on the State of Washington for many years to come.”

Exceptional Service to Agriculture

WSDA awards the Director’s Citation to highlight exceptional supporters of our state's farming, ranching and food producing community.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison presents Washington State
Grain Commission Chairman Gary Bailey the Director's
Citation award. (Photo courtesy Washington Association
Wheat Growers.)
“With nearly 2.2 million acres of wheat stretched across the state, Washington's wheat farms not only offer a crop vital to the effort of feeding the world with nutritious food, but also an important part of our state's economy,” Sandison said.

“Since 1958, the Washington Wheat Commission, now the Washington Grain Commission, has been steadfast in their aim to support the success and profitability of the more than 3,000 wheat farmers in our state,” he said.

For more information about the Washington State Grain Commission visit their website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Do your horse a favor, give it a flu shot

Dr. Brian Joseph 
Washington State Veterinarian

Donkeys and horses are susceptible to equine influenza virus
but with regular vaccinations the disease is preventable. 
Equine influenza virus (EIV) or “horse flu” is a highly contagious but preventable disease found here in Washington.

Protect your animals with regular vaccinations and proper hygiene.

About horse flu

Equine influenza outbreaks occur annually in Washington and across the United States and are a major cause of economic loss due to lost training days and veterinary costs.

They can be prevented through immunization, but the virus remains persistent because of irregular or inadequate vaccination and asymptomatic disease carriers.

Horses in Washington have been infected

Every year, horses in Washington become infected with EIV. Since mid-November 2018, eight confirmed cases have been reported to the Washington State Veterinarian’s office. However, EIV is a common disease and is managed by private veterinarians, not WSDA.

Signs that your horse may have EIV

High fever
Thick green or yellow nasal discharge
Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw
Harsh, dry cough
Depression, loss of appetite and weakness

Most horses recover in two to three weeks, although complete recovery in severely affected animals may take several months. Any horse showing clinical signs should be isolated for at least 21 days.

Can humans get EIV?

No, but dogs can.

What to do if you think your animal may have the flu

Call your vet if you think your horse may be infected. Veterinarian treatment is vital for proper diagnosis and care. Uncomplicated cases require rest and supportive care. Affected horses should rest for a minimum of three weeks -- one week for each day of fever.

These horses should not attend shows or leave the premises during that time.


Equine influenza virus spreads rapidly through barns, race tracks and training facilities through the inhalation or contact with germs shed by infected horses.

Contaminated equipment such as feed buckets, tack and grooming aids can spread the disease.

Practice good hygiene

The virus can be inactivated by commonly used disinfectants and diligent use of hand sanitizer.
Exposure can be reduced through quarantine and observation of newly acquired horses for a two week period; a prudent practice after any horse acquisition or transport.

How to protect your animals

Vaccinate. This is a preventable disease with regular immunizations and biosecurity.

It is recommended that at-risk horses, such as show horses, be immunized at three month intervals while sedentary horses may be vaccinated annually due to a smaller risk of exposure.

Work with your veterinarian to come up with a vaccination program and biosecurity plan tailored to your needs.

For additional information visit WSDA's Animal Health Program page.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Regulating marijuana infused edibles like food

Chris McGann
WSDA Communications

The THC infused caramel center for a
Wave Edibles chocolate turtle.
A marijuana-laced munchable might calm your nerves, help you sleep or ease your pain; it might even get you high, but it shouldn’t make you sick.

That’s the rationale guiding Washington State Department of Agriculture's Food Safety program marijuana infused edible (MIE) facility inspections.

WSDA has conducted MIE facility inspections since 2013 under Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) authority. But this year the agency took charge of food safety regulation for the pot industry, including the power to carry out enforcement and recalls.

WSDA Food Safety Inspectors Keren LaCourse and Jeff Freshly
observe operations at Db3 marijuana processing facility.   
A lot like food

At a recent inspection of Db3, a high tech marijuana extraction and production facility in South Seattle, WSDA NW Regional Food Safety Manager Keren LaCourse explained the criteria with Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin.

“It’s just like a food inspection, but it’s edibles,” said LaCourse. “We look at some of the same criteria that we could look for in a food processing establishment.”

WSDA evaluates things such as proper hygiene, sanitation, pest control, materials storage, and allergenic cross contact to name just a few items listed on a 53-point checklist.

Welcome news to some processors

Devlin said he was pleased to know that WSDA now has its own regulatory authority over marijuana infused edibles and that it will be more involved with the edible companies.

Db3 co-founder Michael Devlin and Operations Manager Lindsay
Short explain their THC extraction process and food handling
 practices during a WSDA facility inspection.  
He said it makes sense to hold marijuana infused edible producers to the same standards as food processors, with the same accountability.

A new view

When voters legalized it in 2012, Washington State’s main goals for marijuana regulation involved tax collection, preventing misuse and product safety. 

As such, tax regulation for marijuana fell to the Washington State Department of Revenue while marijuana production, processing and retail sale regulations became the purview of the WSLCB.

But it wasn’t long before regulators and producers recognized the importance of covering marijuana infused edibles the same as traditional foods where WSDA has full authority over food safety.

If it's edible, food safety matters

A single 10 mg "dose" of cannabis oil. Db3
uses a proprietary process to extract oil used
to infuse goodies like brownies with THC.
There is only a miniscule difference – a 10 mg dose of a difference to be exact – between a brownie and a brownie-shaped marijuana infused edible. Of course, that little dose can really change how that brownie might make you feel. But you could be in for another kind of experience if the rest of the ingredients, the flour, butter and eggs for example, are mishandled, contaminated or mislabeled. Call that feeling salmonella poisoning to name one common pathogen.

Delvin said Db3 was the first licensed edible company in the state. The firm makes Zoots Premium Cannabis Infusions products such as ZootBites Caramel Espresso Brownies. He said he supported the state's efforts to come up with stronger food safety requirements for the industry.

The irony

An engineer by training, Devlin has more than 30 years in the food processing field. He admits his embrace of new regulations is ironic.

“When I was working in food processing, I always believed that we were overregulated,” he said. “But when we started with edibles, it was obvious we needed the same rules as the other food producers.”

Devlin said his opinion changed because of the nature of the new cannabis industry where there may be some incentive to focus on the THC and neglect quality control for the edible in which it is delivered. If edibles producers compete at that level, they may be taking shortcuts that could increase the risk of making consumers sick, he said.

Protecting the public and the industry

Crafting delicious chocolates has always been a vocation for
 Wave Edibles Chocolatier Nola Wyse. But now she's using her
 skill set to create treats that include a perfectly balanced infusion
 of marijuana extract. 
His desire to enhance food safety regulations in the cannabis industry came partly out of what he described as a moral obligation to protect public health, and also economic concerns.

“If someone gets sick from an edible, people aren’t going to say it was salmonella, the story is going to be that someone got sick from a marijuana product,” Delvin said.

A perception that infused products are unsafe would hurt everyone, he said.

“We are founding participants in a new industry, that’s a responsibility and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” he said. “We want the industry to be more concerned about food safety. We need to do it right.”

Edible endorsement

About 75 firms with WSLCB Marijuana Processor licenses have purchased the WSDA $895 MIE Endorsement required for making marijuana edibles in Washington state. WSDA inspects facilities within the 12 months of the endorsement purchase.

It is not legal to add MIE products under a Food Processor license, process MIE products at a facility that processes non-marijuana food products or process non-marijuana food products at a facility that produces MIE products.

For more information about food safety and marijuana infused edibles, visit WSDA's Marijuana Infused Edible Inspections page.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What do you think of biological control? Inquiring local scientists want to know!

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

WSDA entomologist Maggie Freeman releases wasps
to combat invasive lily leaf beetles.
When it comes to fighting pests – whether weeds, diseases, or animals – many tools have been used over the centuries including manual removal, cultural changes, and use of pesticides. One of the lesser-known tools is biological control – or the use of natural enemies to attack pests.

While biological control may seem like a modern phenomenon, according to Wikipedia, biological control has been used for centuries. The first report of the use of an insect species to control an insect pest comes from China around 304 AD. Jiaozhi people sold ants and their nests attached to twigs, which they placed in trees to protect citrus fruits. The ants attacked and killed insect pests of the orange tree.

Despite their longtime use, some people are only familiar with stories of biological control agents in
Parasitic wasps laying eggs on lily leaf beetle larva.
the first half of the 1900’s, some of which were released without adequate research and became pests themselves.

In an effort to understand current attitudes and beliefs about the use of biological control, WSDA is collaborating with Washington State University and the University of Alaska to conduct a survey to learn about public perceptions of classical biological control.

If you have questions about the survey or project, contact WSDA entomologist Chris Looney.

Updated January 14, 2019 to remove survey link after survey closed. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

6 things to know about WSDA’s 2018 gypsy moth trapping results

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

Male gypsy moth stuck in WSDA trap
Although it is November, things are just starting to slow down for WSDA gypsy moth survey coordinator Tiffany Pahs and WSDA’s gypsy moth trapping program. They are only now wrapping up their 44th year of trapping for gypsy moths, part of a decades-long successful effort to keep gypsy moths from establishing in Washington.

While there are no permanent populations of gypsy moths in Washington, each year several European gypsy moths enter the state by hitchhiking with people who move from or visit infested areas. More than 20 states have permanent gypsy moth populations. Asian gypsy moths occasionally slip into our state as well – usually through international ports, though ships are routinely screened for gypsy moths.

Trapping is the cornerstone of the gypsy moth program. It consists of placing thousands of traps throughout the state each summer and fall to monitor for gypsy moth introductions. Almost 30,000 traps went up this year alone, set out by 48 dedicated trappers. You may have seen one in your neighborhood – small, triangular boxes hanging in trees from about June to October.

Gypsy moth traps are checked about every two weeks
Traps help WSDA monitor for gypsy moths and provide three critical pieces of information:
  • Which areas are free of gypsy moths
  • Areas where gypsy moths have been introduced
  • Areas where gypsy moths are reproducing/attempting to establish
In addition to the summer trapping, Pahs’ program also conducts visual surveys in late fall for alternate live stages of gypsy moths, such as egg masses, cocoons, or caterpillar sheddings.

Wrapping up the 2018 gypsy moth trapping season 

Here are the top six things to know about this year’s trapping results:
  1. Trappers nabbed 52 gypsy moths.
  2. Gypsy moths were found in 10 counties (Clark, Cowlitz, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, San Juan, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom counties).
  3. Kitsap County had the most catches: 17.
  4. Trappers found one Asian gypsy moth, which was in Snohomish County.
  5. Trapping results confirmed the successful 2016 eradication of Asian gypsy moth at six sites.
  6. The gypsy moth program is now conducting egg mass surveys in areas of multiple catches.

WSDA’s gypsy moth program will assess the trapping and any egg mass survey data later this year to determine which locations, if any, require eradication treatments to prevent the permanent establishment of gypsy moth populations.  

European gypsy moth is one of the most destructive invasive species ever introduced in the United States. They defoliate millions of acres of trees each year, which can kill the trees. In 2016, the damage was so bad in New England that the swathes of dead trees could be seen on satellite imagery. This year, Rhode Island reported that one-quarter of the state’s hardwood trees have died, in large part due to gypsy moth caterpillar infestations.

Asian gypsy moths pose an even greater threat as they readily attack evergreen trees, which die with only one year of defoliation. Additionally, unlike their European cousins, Asian gypsy moth females can fly, which enables them to spread much more rapidly.

You can see the full trapping results on WSDA’s website and watch the video below to learn more about why gypsy moths are such a threat to Washington’s environment. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Keeping the door open for ag exports in Asia

Chris McGann
WSDA Media Relations Coordinator 

Taylor Shellfish Co. International Sales Manager Tom Bettinger
explains the finer points of oyster tasting to WSDA Trade
Specialist Elisa Daun and overseas contractor Danny Kim.   
“There are four parts to tasting an oyster,” Tom Bettinger, Taylor Shellfish Co.’s International Sales Manager explained outside a large processing facility in Shelton. “The first is how it looks, the second is the nectar – that’s the seawater where it came from. The oyster is the third, and the aftertaste is the fourth.”

Bettinger was leading a facility tour for a small group of  overseas representatives contracted by WSDA to assist Washington agriculture exporters and promote our state's agricultural products in Asia.

Export assistance in key locations

With these contractors on the ground in key trading nations, WSDA's International Marketing Program helps build Washington's international reputation as a reliable source of wide-ranging, high quality agricultural products delivered at the highest safety and handling standards. By promoting this brand identity, the program puts Washington companies in position to export their products efficiently and profitably. And when producers encounter regulatory, logistic, or other exporting issues, the contractors are well positioned to provide assistance.

WSDA overseas representatives with Director Derek Sandison. From
the left: Scott Hitchman, Li Haidong, Sandison, Francis Lee and Danny Kim. 
The group was in Washington for a week-long visit that included tours where they learned about several of the products they promote to Asian buyers. They also participated in one-on-one  consultations with producers who are interested in expanding into overseas markets. The meetings are opportunities for sellers to get specific advice about logistics, markets and cultural preferences for major export countries.

In Seattle, the group toured a craft brewery and a handmade cheese factory. In Eastern Washington, they visited a hops farm and saw the harvest and processing of a key component of our state's renowned IPA beers. Their Eastside outing also included a trip to a local dairy farm, as well as other educational and seller-support events.

This year, in addition to their typical jam-packed itinerary, the annual visit was documented by a television crew from Seattle’s Q-13 FOX channel. Reporter Nadia Romero and camera crew interviewed the representatives and several of the producers who attended the seller meetings in Seattle.

Fresh is best 
Hale's Ales Sales Manager Bill Preib talks to Q-13
reporter Nadia Romero about how WSDA consultants
 helped him evaluate Asia's beer market.

Back in Shelton, as we walked through the seafood plant with Bettinger, we could almost taste the oysters, clams, mussels and geoducks and the Puget Sound waters from which they were plucked that same morning.

Throughout bustling but immaculate facilities, the sweet, fresh smell of seafood infuses the air like the smell of the ocean on a cool coastal breeze – that must be the nectar.

Crews clad in heavy vinyl rain gear hovered along production lines cleaning, sorting, shucking, and packing the briny harvest. They hosed down the floors, swung forklifts in and around rows of crates and shells, and loaded tractor trailer trucks headed straight for the airport every day to deliver the goods to restaurants in Shanghai, Ho Chi Min City, and Tokyo and Seoul.

Oysters pulled from the water on Monday morning will be served on the half shell half a world away by Wednesday night, Bettinger said.

Representative Francis Lee described what he believes is "the biggest selling point for most seafood in Asia" with a single word: “fresh.” He smiled because he knows his buyers well and he knows he is working with a company that can meet that central demand.

Bettinger talks freshness with Francis Lee.
Lee is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He has worked as an overseas contractor for WSDA for five years. He is one of four overseas representatives contracted by WSDA who help Washington producers establish and maintain buyer-seller connections, deliver resources and advocate for market access in Vietnam, Japan, China, and Korea.

Q-13 TV interviews Danny Kim.
The other contractors are: Scott Hitchman, who has represented our state's ag products in Tokyo, Japan, for 25 years; Li Haidong is based in Shanghai, China and has been under contract with WSDA for 16 years; and Dong Hwan Kim (Danny Kim), in Seoul, South Korea, with 5 years working for WSDA.

In addition to these four overseas contractors, WSDA's International Marketing Program team includes five program staff based throughout the state.

Export expertise for Washington sellers

As liaisons between in-state sellers and overseas buyers, these reps juggle many tasks to assist producers who are interested or engaged in selling their products outside the U.S. They maintain databases of buyers, distributors and importers, keep up on market trends, industry news and regulatory compliance issues, and meet with businesses and government officials.

Bettinger said the reps can really be lifesavers.

"Recently, when we sent a container of cooked oyster meat to Vietnam, there was an issue with the health certificate. It was going to be parked and have to be returned back to the U.S.," he said. "Francis jumped on it and got it cleared up. That is a good example of sending up an SOS and getting rescued."

And even when operations are running smoothly, Bettinger said having reps helps.

"It's a lot easier to be in-country, with the representative there, and talk about an issue or talk about a potential sale than it is to try to do everything by e-mail."

 Rebecca Weber, Danny Kim, Rianne Perry and Elisa Daun (WSDA's International
 Marketing Program team) experience an icy blast in the Taylor Shellfish freezer.
 "It's about minus 20 in there," Bettinger said. 

Here  are a few links where you can find more information about WSDA’s International Marketing Program, upcoming international marketing events, and the overseas contractors.

Monday, October 15, 2018

National Food Bank Week spotlights needs to fight hunger

Nichole Garden
Food Assistance programs

Bins brimming with fresh produce at Hopelink in Kirkland. 
Food banks and pantries across Washington State aim to alleviate hunger locally, providing food for one in six Washingtonians to nourish themselves and their families. As the holiday season approaches, food pantries tend to see an influx of patrons hoping to fill their holiday tables with nutritious foods. 

National Food Bank Week, observed October 14-20 this year, is an opportune time to remember our neighbors in need. 

While the week was initially designated in May, emergency food providers began observing it in October to coincide with World Food Day on October 16. Established by the United Nations in 1979 and adopted by the United States in 1984, World Food Day aims to raise awareness of hunger around the world.

While the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Food Assistance programs provide commodity foods and some funding to help support the hunger relief efforts across our state, community donations and contributions are still vital to keeping the lights on and the shelves full.

Below is a list of suggested ways you could help observe this week and celebrate the individuals and organizations that provide hunger relief.

Donate Food

Food banks are always looking to their communities for food donations. Some of the most requested items include:

  • High-protein foods such as canned chili, peanut butter, beans, or canned meat.
  • Pasta, and macaroni and cheese.
  • Canned fruit and vegetables.
  • Soup.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that store well in a refrigerator.
  • Baby food, baby cereal, and formula.
  • Nutritional drinks and shakes for seniors (Ensure, Boost, etc.).

Consider setting up a food donation box at your work, school, church, or other community group and deliver the collected items to your local food pantries.

Donate Money

While food is always a welcome donation, food pantries can use monetary donations to purchase in bulk at a discount or pay utility bills and other costs of running a food pantry.
Susan Curtis and Mary Downs keep the shelves stocked at the Community
Cupboard in Leavenworth. 


While some food pantries have paid staff, volunteers are the backbone of many food pantries. Food pantries have a variety of volunteer tasks such as food sorting, deliveries, gleaning, office support, facility and equipment maintenance, and food distribution.

Pledge to Grow-a-Row

More and more food pantries are encouraging donations of produce items for their patrons. WSDA is assisting with these efforts with their Farm to Food Pantry initiative, providing funding to food pantries to purchase produce directly from local farmers. 

You can help by growing extra crops in your home gardens. Food pantries are looking for a wide range of produce items from beets and berries to radishes and rutabagas. Check your local food bank website for requested items and how to donate.

Spread Awareness

Consider using social media to let your friends know why you appreciate food banks or why food security is important to you. End your post with #NationalFoodBankWeek. 

Thanks to the commitment of Washington’s emergency food assistance system, as well as the donations and volunteer aid of so many citizens, our robust partnership is working to alleviate hunger and provide healthy food options.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Schools, farms and partners make Taste Washington Day 2018 a success

Chris Iberle
WSDA Farm to School & Value Chains Specialist

Sam Bowhay from Ralph’s Greenhouse talks with students
 about growing golden beets at Taste Washington Day 2018
at Highline Public Schools 
The 8th annual Taste Washington Day took place at 43 school districts statewide on Oct. 3rd and other days throughout October. At least 212,000 students ate seasonal, Washington grown lunches and learned more about local food and farms through their district’s participation in Taste Washington Day. It was a great way celebrate and kick off National Farm to School Month.

More than 70 Washington farmers participated

Farmers provided everything from apples to beef to cabbage to milk for school lunches across the state. Governor Inslee’s Taste Washington Day Proclamation recognized the quality and diversity of Washington’s agricultural products, and how the National School Lunch Program encourages students to eat nutritious foods by providing affordable meals with ingredients grown on Washington farms.

Students pose with staff from WSDA, OSPI, WSU,
Highline Public Schools and local farmers at
 Taste Washington Day 2018
Apples were crunched

Many schools including Enumclaw School District, Grandview School District, Oak Harbor Public Schools, and many other districts held big “Washington Apple Crunch” celebrations on Oct. 3. Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oakesdale FFA, and other organizations joined students across the state to “crunch” into their locally grown Washington apples all together at noon, making a crunch heard ‘round the state.

Taste Washington Day at Highline Public Schools

WSDA and OSPI Child Nutrition staff visited Highline Public Schools to eat a local lunch with students, farmers, and community partners. At Evergreen High School, students from FEEST talked about how they work with their school food service to support healthy eating options for students. The menu included a salad dressing developed by FEEST students, featuring Washington grown blueberries.

WSDA Director Sandison visits with FEEST students
 at Highline Public Schools at Taste Washington Day 2018
At Seahurst Elementary, students were wowed by giant leeks and beets brought by Sam Bowhay from Ralph’s Greenhouse, whose bunched carrots were served fresh and roasted at lunch with white bean and chicken chili. Shepherd’s Grain provided flour for some tasty whole wheat rosemary rolls, and Dairy Ambassador Abby Zurcher from the Washington State Dairy Council shared photos and stories with students about how fresh milk gets from the cow to the carton. Candida Goza from WSU King County Extension SNAP-Ed talked about how they educate students on food and nutrition, and garden volunteer John Feeney gathered students from the New Start High School Shark Garden to share about how working in the garden and growing produce improves their learning experience.

Local lunches were served

Many thanks of course to every single one of the 43 school districts and cafeterias that participated in Taste Washington Day. Some school districts’ events are happening later in National Farm to School Month in October, and into November.

Click through these links to see just a few of the highlights:
Anacortes School District served roasted delicata squash from The Crow’s Farm
Concrete School District served an all-local menu with produce and beef from Sauk Farm, The Crow’s Farm, Boldly Grown Farm, Ovenell’s Ranch, Forest Farmstead, and Blue Heron Farm
Preschoolers at Puesta Del Sol in Bellevue School District learned about locally grown foods
Edmonds School District served Washington grown cauliflower, cucumbers, nectarines, apples, and fresh milk to celebrate
Enumclaw School District celebrated with lunches featuring Washington grown ingredients
Hood Canal School served corn on the cob from Hunter Farms, and did the Washington Apple Crunch
LaConner School District held a Taste of the Skagit Week, with vegetables, fruit, and beef from farms in Skagit County in lunches all week long: Viva Farms, Swanson Bros., Pioneer Potatoes, Forrest Cattle Co., Gordon Skagit Farms, and Bow Hill Blueberries
Lopez Island School District served lunches throughout September sourced from within 50 miles of the school
Oak Harbor Public Schools, including Crescent Harbor and Olympic View Elementary Schools, highlighted local broccoli and cauliflower at lunch with a Washington Apple Crunch at noon
Monroe School District featured Washington grown foods on all their salad bars: apple crisp, apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, cucumbers, corn, blueberries, autumn squash and fresh milk Pullman Public Schools served lentil sloppy joes and Korean street tacos with local lentils from Spokane Seed
South Whidbey School District served carrots, beets, potatoes, lettuce, cherry tomatoes from their very own South Whidbey School Farms, and students in the culinary class made tortellini arrabbiata
Tommorrow's Hope Child Development at Housing Hope served beef and bean chili with fresh, local salad including ingredients from Caruso Farms, Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center, and Chinook Farms, and did the Washington Apple Crunch
Willow Public School had a lunch with grass-fed meatloaf, kale salad, roasted carrots, summer squash, and more from farms within 30 miles of the school: Upper Dry Creek Ranch, Hayshaker Farm, Welcome Table Farm, Frog Hollow Farm, and Edwards Family Farm.

Taste Washington Day was organized by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington School Nutrition Association, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and many regional Farm to School partner organizations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Managing manure and water in the wet season

Chery Sullivan
WSDA Dairy Nutrient Management Program

This dairy farm lagoon is pumped down and ready for winter storage.
Each season brings another round of annual tasks for farmers. If you are a dairy farm producer, preparing now for winter manure and water storage will help you avoid a manure management disaster and help protect Washington State’s water quality. 

Manure storage 

As the days grow short and feed bunkers fill with the summer crops, it is time to make sure manure storage structures are emptied and ready to store manure and rainwater through the winter and early spring months. 

Farms storing manure in lagoons must have capacity to store four-to-six-month’s worth of manure, while maintaining a foot of freeboard to protect the lagoon embankment from failure – plus, additional space for a severe rainstorm. Upright storage tanks must keep six inches of freeboard to prevent overtopping from waves created by high winds.

Manure application 

October manure nutrient applications come with special risks because fields may be compacted from harvest equipment and because heavy rains are on the way. If manure that is applied does not soak into the soil before the next rain event, it could run off to surface waters or puddle in the low-lying portions of the field. Solid manure should be disked into the soil or only applied to areas that are not at risk of flooding or runoff to surface water. 
Keep a close eye on the weather forecast. Manure applied to a saturated
field can spell trouble. 

Before applying manure, applicators should: 
  • Look at three-day weather forecasts.
  • Check the field’s nutrient needs and ability to absorb the manure applied.
  • Avoid applying to areas prone to runoff.
  • Use large buffers from all waterways. 
Also, consider that weather forecasts may not be entirely accurate, with either more or less rain falling than predicted.

If a farm does not have safe locations to apply nutrients due to crops or weather conditions, they should work with neighbors, custom manure applicators, and the local Conservation District to find the best application sites or extra storage areas.

Feed bunker and yard runoff 

A vegetated treatment area (VTA) can be used to filter and absorb nutrients. The VTA must be designed to treat the volume of runoff expected, and must be healthy enough to trap and absorb the nutrients carried in the runoff. If not designed well, concentrated runoff from the feed area can “burn” the grass and destroy these treatment areas.

Keep gutters and downspouts clear and functional to divert
water away from manured areas. 
If you collect and transfer the runoff from the feed area to storage, make sure drain grates are clear and pumps are operational.

Gutters and clean water diversion 

Fall rains arrive quickly. It pays to double check that gutter downspouts are functional and that water is diverted away from manured areas where possible. Remember, an inch of rain collected from 1,000 square feet of surface equals 600 gallons of water.

If you have questions about winter manure management, please contact your local conservation district or Kyrre Flege with WSDA’s Dairy Nutrient Management Program at, or 360-902-2894.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Pretty pest added to invasive species priority list

Chris McGann
WSDA Communications
An adult spotted lanternfly.
Photo:Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

The adult spotted lanternfly is a sight to behold; its wings are a tapestry of inky spots and delicate stripes underscored with broad patches of bold crimson. Its plump body is reminiscent of a bumble bee or a cicada.

But WSDA’s Plant Protection entomologists see this colorful bug as a big threat to Washington’s tree fruit and grape industry. They are gearing up to try to block the road for this insidious hitchhiker and prevent fast-spreading infestations like those seen in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

WSDA's Pest Program classifies the spotted lanternfly as a “target pest” in multiple pest surveys and earlier this month, the Washington Invasive Species Council added it to the likes of apple maggots, gypsy moths and brown marmorated stink bugs on its top priority species list.

A native of China, the spotted lanternfly first arrived in Pennsylvania in 2014 and quickly proved it is a pest to be reckoned with.

Entomologist Sven-Erik Spichiger spent a decade as Pennsylvania’s state entomologist before joining the WSDA Plant Protection team this year. He knows how bad the infestations can be from experience.

“When you’ve seen tens of thousands of spotted lanternflies on an apple tree during harvest, it will turn your head around,” Spichiger said.
Photo:Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

He said from an insect scientist’s perspective, the lantern fly is fascinating.

“But for the public, one bug gets their attention. Imagine how they feel when they come out to their toddler’s swing set and find it coated with more than 200,000.”

The lanternfly spreads plant disease, weakens trees and threatens the country’s multi-billion dollar grape, orchard and logging industries.

And it’s just gross.

The spotted lanternfly lays eggs in non-descript gray globs that are difficult to detect on trees, rusty cans or park benches. It multiplies insidiously by the thousands and can overtake trees, and crops -- even playground equipment – overnight.
A glob of spotted lanternfly eggs
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

Then there’s the “honey dew.” That’s entomologist talk for lanternfly urine. Lanternflies feed on sap and excrete sticky droplets of sugar-rich urine that rain down from infested trees so hard in some cases, people need rain coats to work in the area. The shellac of honey dew turns rancid over time and attracts swarms of bees, ants, and wasps. Finally, the coated understory becomes black with “sooty mold.”

In Pennsylvania, the infestation continues to spread, despite more than $20 million poured into research and eradication efforts this year alone. Lanternflies have now invaded Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware.

These prolific bugs suck sap from hardwood trees, grape vines and fruit trees but its favorite food is the Ailanthus tree or “tree of heaven.”  Spichiger says the tree of heaven - another invasive species - grows in disturbed areas such as vacant lots, highway medians and especially along railroad lines.
WSDA Managing Entomologist
Sven-Erik Spichiger

“Train tracks are lined with these trees,” he said, pointing out that one of the big concerns here in Washington is that this pest is an active hitchhiker.

“All it takes is a stiff wind to knock one of these into a rusty box car and the next week it’s on the West Coast,” Spichiger said. “There is a very high likelihood that this will continue spreading.”

Early stage of spotted lanternfly infestation.
Photo:Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Although there is plenty of reason for concern, Spichiger said there is also hope.

Treatments that combine host removal with pesticide applications have been shown to be effective on small infestations, he said.  And because of its distinctive appearance, engaging the public to help locate infestations can be effective.

"Control strategies work best when entomologists have ability to rapidly respond to the pest," he said. "You can actually control lanternfly infestation using this strategy if you detect them early,” Spichiger said.

For more information about WSDA's Pest Protection Program.