Thursday, March 15, 2018

From timber to hay, inspectors keep busy and keep exports moving

Sue Welch
WSDA Plant Services Program

Keeping out invasive plant pests and diseases is a challenge for every country, especially since so many plants and plant products are shipped around the world every day. Whether it is timber products going to China or Christmas trees to Mexico, hay to Japan or seed potatoes to Uruguay, it must all be inspected and certified before it can be shipped.

Inspection of logs at the
Port of Olympia.
WSDA’s Plant Services Program has 10 environmental specialists who conduct export inspections of Washington plants and plant products bound for market in other states or overseas. These specialists focus on ornamental plants, and fruiting shrubs and trees, which carry a higher risk of moving live pests, as well as agricultural products like timber, hay and grain. WSDA has a separate program, Fruit and Vegetable Inspection, that focuses on inspecting edible produce.

The author training a
new inspector.

Most countries – including the United States - require a phytosanitary certificate, or “phyto,” before plant products are allowed in. An inspector in the country of origin issues the phytos once they have determined a product meets the requirements of the importing country.

While many of the international shipping inspections are done by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a lot of them are done by WSDA inspectors who are trained, tested and licensed by USDA to issue international phytosanitary certificates.

The inspectors with the Plant Services Program work in log yards, vineyards, nurseries, packing warehouses, or out in growing fields. Growing season inspections are timed to match when disease symptoms will be most noticeable. So tulip bulbs are inspected for viruses during flowering, and grape plants are inspected twice, for early spring and late summer viruses. Logs, lumber and grains can be inspected year-round.
A commercial nursery greenhouse in Elma, Wash.

Inspectors examine plants for symptoms of viral, fungal or bacterial infections, or for signs of insect infestation. Sometimes, before they can be certified for export, plants must be tested and found free of specific diseases. Some products, like lumber, may need to be treated with heat or chemicals to ensure that there are no live pests hitching a ride.

From incredibly destructive insects like the Japanese beetle and gypsy moth, to diseases that can wipe out entire crops, the goal is to do all we can to keep intruders from invading new territory.

Every country has their own requirements for the import of plant products, and they vary greatly by the type of plant, and what part of the plant is being shipped. Inspectors refer to the Phytosanitary Export Database, which lists official plant health requirements for all countries, to determine whether the products are in compliance with the importing countries’ rules.
Plant Services supervisor John Wraspir (L) and
inspector Ed Stansbury (R), inspect tulip bulbs
for export.

WSDA Plant Services inspectors issued 29,584 export certificates for foreign countries in 2017. The goal of state inspectors is to help shippers meet all export requirements so the shipping process goes smoothly and Washington plant products continue to enjoy a reputation for high quality and desirability.

If you need help exporting plant products, contact WSDA Plant Services inspectors at or 360-902-1874.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Outreach campaign to show value of nursery endorsement

Cindy Cooper
WSDA Plant Services Program

Before you plant your spring flower garden this year, consider how these plants got to your yard. Did you know they are backed up by a statewide system of pest quarantines, plant inspections and nursery licensing? This system helps sellers present the best possible plants to their customers, but also protects both consumers and the environment.

Yet, participation in the licensing program that funds these efforts have fallen off in recent years, and with it, the widespread awareness of our state’s plant protection rules and standards. Currently, there are more than 5,000 licensed nurseries in the state, a decline in compliance of 40 percent since 2008 when more than 8,500 businesses held a WSDA nursery endorsement on their business license.

WSDA would like to reverse this trend

WSDA inspector at a retail garden center
Our WSDA Plant Services Program is kicking off a year-long campaign to educate businesses and the public about nursery licensing requirements and the work of our inspectors. Their efforts benefit plant-oriented businesses, protect consumers and Washington’s native environment, while reducing the risk of insects and plant diseases moving around the state by accident.

Many of our inspectors have worked for nurseries in the past and all receive training from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. They offer tips on how to comply with state and federal plant quarantines, make sure plants for sale are healthy, and share best management practices with growers.

Our staff plays a vital role in facilitating trade by providing inspections of plants, logs, hay and grain being exported to foreign countries.

Licensing is the link to education, awareness

It all starts with licensing nursery and landscape firms so we can communicate important information to these businesses and schedule necessary inspections. It is possible that some nurseries and landscapers operating without a license may not be aware they need one.

Businesses that sell more than $100 worth of plants in a year are required to have a nursery endorsement on their master business license from the Department of Revenue's Business Licensing Service. That means garden centers, landscapers, grocery stores that sell plants, home improvement stores, pet stores that stock aquatic plants, and farmers market vendors need a nursery endorsement.

Fees for a  nursery endorsement are based on gross annual sales of plants and whether you sell more retail or wholesale. The cost of the nursery endorsement ranges from $63 a year up to $273 a year. The fees support the program of inspections and education, but they also support important research that benefits the state’s nurseries and landscapers.

There are exemptions for non-profit plant sales and school programs.

Check your inbox

Starting this month, WSDA Plant Services will be ramping up awareness of licensing requirements and benefits, through emails, postings on social media, speaking at nursery industry meetings, publishing articles and even snail mail.

Our goal is to continue supporting our state’s nursery industry while improving compliance with our licensing requirements.

So if you’re in the business of plants, keep an eye on your inbox. Email us at if you have questions

Monday, February 12, 2018

Quarantine lifted at Woodinville equestrian center

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

A quarantine that has been in place at a Woodinville equestrian center since Dec. 13 was removed today following tests showing no new evidence of the highly contagious neuropathogenic strain of equine herpes virus (EHV-1).

The stable’s veterinarians deserve praise for quickly alerting WSDA of the outbreak last December, working cooperatively in protecting the horses and communicating difficult decisions to the stable's owners.

It also helped that the owners were exceptionally cooperative with our oversight. Their efforts prevented this situation from becoming an outbreak at additional horse facilities.

This incident is a reminder for all horse owners to continue practicing good biosecurity at their stables and keep an eye on their horses for signs of possible infection such as high fevers, discharge from their eyes or nose, or swelling in their limbs. Owners should also look for neurological signs such as an unsteady gait, weakness, urine dripping, lack of tail tone and recumbency.

Notify your veterinarian if you detect any of these symptoms.

Our earlier article from December on EHV-1 has additional advice for horse owners concerning equine herpes.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Food safety starts on the farm

Karla Salp

Each participant receives a binder packed with information
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed into law as the first major food safety reform in over 70 years. With the passage of FSMA came new requirements for farmers, most notably pertaining to the safe growing and postharvest handling of produce.

Less known is the fact that any farm with more than $500,000 in annual sales is required to send at least one employee to mandated grower training on produce safety. In Washington, this amounts to about 2,000 farms required to take the training. Many more farms may also elect to take the training to improve their food safety knowledge and practices.

WSDA’s new Produce Safety Program is collaborating with Washington State University and the Produce Safety Alliance to put on trainings that meet the FSMA requirement. These day-long trainings are being held at various locations throughout the state and new training dates continue to be added.

Here’s an overview of topics covered in the training:

  • An introduction to produce safety
  • Worker health, hygiene, and training
  • Working with soil amendments
  • Wildlife, domesticated animals, and land use
  • Agricultural water – production water and postharvest water
  • Developing a farm food safety plan

The training focuses on helping farmers understand food safety concerns that growers need to address on the farm. It does not tell farmers exactly what they must do, recognizing that each farming operation is unique. Instead, the training focuses on thinking through food safety concerns and enabling farms to develop their own food safety plans to address the unique challenges and opportunities on their own farms.

For many farms, the training provides a refresher and reinforces their existing food safety practices. “It’s just like GlobalGAP*,” one farmer said during the training. But whoever attends the trainings will likely come away with new ideas on improving food safety on their farms, as well as a better understanding of current regulation.

Several trainings are still available to attend before farming season begins in earnest:
  • Feb. 15 – Vancouver
  • March 6 – Mount Vernon
  • March 6-7 – Mount Vernon (Train the trainer)
Visit our website to register for these and future trainings about produce safety. You can also email the WSDA Produce Safety Program with questions or to request training in your area. Visit the Produce Safety Alliance website for more produce safety resources and to find trainings around the country.

*GlobalGAP, or Global Good Agricultural Practices, is a voluntary certification program focused on ensuring a safe and sustainable global food supply.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

King County horse barn quarantined for equine herpes virus

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

On Monday, WSDA placed a King County equine premises under quarantine after a case of equine herpes, or EHV-1, was detected in a horse at the facility. However, this is a different strain of EHV-1 than the virus strain that lead to an earlier quarantine at a separate horse facility in Woodinville this past December. The two cases are not related.

The most recent case involves a non-neuropathogenic strain of equine herpes virus, though it is still serious and can cause respiratory problems in horses. The detection was made in a gelding that had recently been transported from Oregon. It is recovering under treatment and has not shown clinical signs of illness. 

In addition to placing the facility under quarantine, WSDA is working with local veterinarians actively monitoring the other animals at the facility that have been exposed to the infected horse. 

The earlier case at the Woodinville facility involved a neuropathogenic strain of EHV-1. That detection resulted in a quarantine of the facility and the need to euthanize seven horses. WSDA has not yet lifted the quarantine. 

Horse owners should take precautions to protect their animals against these contagious diseases by practicing strict biosecurity. You should also monitor your horses for signs of illness, monitor their temperature twice a day and notify your veterinarian immediately if you have any concerns.

More recommendations for horse owners to guard against equine herpes are included in a previous WSDA blog article. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fourth generation dairy farmer new assistant state vet

Hector Castro

Dr. Amber Itle has been around large animals her whole life, first as a child growing up on her family’s dairy farm in Pennsylvania, and later as a private practice veterinarian and in recent years a field veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture.

“I started working at a young age, feeding calves and milking cows with my siblings and cousins,” Dr. Itle said. “I have worked as a herd manager, AI technician, and processing plant worker. I even had the chance to deliver milk on local routes.”

Now, Dr. Itle can add assistant state veterinarian to the list, after being appointed to the position earlier this month.

As the assistant state vet, Dr. Itle will manage the agency’s team of field vets and the agency’s Animal Disease Traceability Program. Her top goal is to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to boost communications with stakeholders who work in all sectors of the livestock industry to protect animal health and promote traceability.

“The idea is to close the gap between Olympia and the producers that our decisions and regulations impact,” she said. “As much as possible, we should incorporate the ideas and proposed solutions of our stakeholders when it comes to implementing ADT.”

Dr. Itle also plans to remain involved in partnerships with other organizations working on animal health issues, such as the large animal program committee for the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

She has a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s from the University of British Columbia. Dr. Itle worked in private practice for several years, including a decade in Whatcom County as a large animal and sale yard veterinarian working among beef cattle, before joining WSDA in 2013 as a field veterinarian and foreign animal disease diagnostician.

“My dad has been practicing as a food animal veterinarian for 46 years and continues to be passionate about the work. My sister is also a mixed animal veterinarian,” Dr. Itle said.

She lives in Whatcom County with her husband and their three children, where she helps manage her neighbor's beef herd and her oldest daughter's two beef cows, Flower and Moocy.

“Agriculture has always been important to the livelihoods and identity of both my family and myself," Dr. Itle said. "I hope to use my understanding of animal agriculture and animal health to promote practical solutions for our stakeholders.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

Planning for Wholesale Success

Karla Salp

When the weather turns cold and inhospitable, farmers don’t just put their feet up and relax. Winter is often the time for paperwork, planning and the ongoing learning necessary for success in any profession.

Wholesale Success workshop prepares participants
to answer important questions about their products.
This week, several farmers operating small family farms crowded together in a classroom at Clark College in Vancouver for training on getting into the wholesale market.

The training, Wholesale Success: A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packaging Produce, was sponsored by WSDA. The training itself was created by the non-profit organization, Family Farmed, with support from USDA and many others.

The daylong training covered many topics of interest to farmers, including:

  • Market analysis – Learning what the customers value
  • Promoting your farm brand – Differentiating yourself from other producers
  • Pricing – Cost of production and efficiency 
  • Doing business – Communications/Contracts, risk management, post-harvest grading and packing
  • An overview of additional local resources

The agenda for the day was packed, but the training gave farmers an overview of considerations when getting into the wholesale market. The training also provided numerous worksheets that farmers could utilize during and after the class.

Participants discussed their own farm operations and
provided feedback and insights to each other.
Networking proved to be one of the most valuable parts of the training as the farmers shared best practices and new ideas. Hearing what was working for others – especially in the local area – was something one can’t obtain from reading the workbook alone.

At the end of the day, participants left with many new ideas on how to improve their operations and expand into wholesale markets. They also left with a hefty, 300+ page full-color manual with loads of additional information, including numerous crop profiles with harvest, handling/packaging, storage and pest/disease management information.

This opportunity can provide valuable information to anyone considering getting into farming or looking to expand his or her operation. Many of the concepts can be applied to direct-to-consumer marketing as well as wholesale markets.

WSDA provides these trainings regularly and the $15 registration fee includes lunch and the full-color manual.

There is currently one more Wholesale Success workshop scheduled in Walla Walla in February. Visit WSDA’s Small Farms page at for more information about Wholesale Success and other resources for Washington farmers. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Grab a cuppa and improve your farm or land

Karla Salp

The Thurston Conservation District in Olympia has a unique opportunity for farmers and others to learn about their services - Coffee with Your Conservation District.

The concept is simple – meet up once a month at various local coffee joints and allow community members to come and learn how the conservation district can help them be better stewards of their land. No commitment is required – not even a sign-in list is passed around.

At the January meet-up, half a dozen community members gathered around a large table at a coffee shop in Lacey and peppered the conservation district with questions about how the conservation district could help them. Some of the available services they discovered include:

  • Soil and nutrient testing
  • Removal and replacement of invasive species
  • Landowner succession planning
  • Linking new farmers with landowners
  • Assistance in finding financing resources 
  • Cost-share programs, such as exclusion fencing and nutrient management projects
  • Farmland preservation
  • Small equipment rentals
  • Workshops and training for farmers and landowners
  • Voluntary Stewardship Programs 
  • Shoreline protection
  • Shellfish recovery
  • Conservation planning

These are just some of the projects offered at the Thurston Conservation District, and most conservations districts around the state offer similar programs appropriate for their land and ecosystems.

But it’s not only the services they offer that makes conservation districts an interesting option for landowners, it’s their philosophy of doing business, which stresses partnerships over regulation.

Here are the top five reasons you might want to get involved with your own local conservation district. 

  1. Trusted partners. One of the most attractive and unique qualities of conservation districts is that they are specifically non-regulatory. They provide technical assistance and partner with landowners to improve stewardship of their land or come into compliance with state law without the threat fines. 
  2. Local experts and leadership. Staff offer landowners expertise in fields such as soil resource management, conservation biology, forest and ecological engineering, and more. Each district is directed by a five-member board of supervisors. Three members are elected locally, at least two of whom must be landowners or operators of a farm. 
  3. Personal investment. Because conservation districts are run by people who live in the community, they are experts in local issues and are very familiar with the natural resource and environmental issues unique to each region. They care about protecting the environment in their backyards. 
  4. Free and low-cost. Most conservation district services are either free or low-cost. Their services are partially paid through grants and property taxes, allowing them to keep costs affordable for everyone. 
  5. Protect the environment. The role of the conservation district is to help landowners be better stewards of their land. By working together, the environment is improved for all. 
Conservation district staff and community members gathered
at a local coffee spot in Lacey. 
You don’t have to live in Thurston County to benefit from conservation district services. There are dozens of conservation districts throughout the state. Visit the Washington State Conservation Commission’s website at  to find a conservation district near you. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Food pantries see fewer clients, more seniors

Kim Eads
Food Assistance program manager

Food pantries across Washington saw fewer new clients last year and fewer clients made return visits, according to data collected by WSDA’s Food Assistance programs. The one exception, the figures show, was for the state’s senior population, which saw an increase in return visits.

“The need remains high in specific segments and regions of our state, but for seniors, this is particularly true,” Kim Eads, Food Assistance program manager said. “For seniors, they visited a local food pantry an average of nearly 9 times a year, which is 2 more times annually than the average for every other age group. Our numbers don’t show why that is, but clearly food insecurity is a significant issue for a population that often relies on a fixed income.”

The complete data is in the annual report, “Emergency Food Assistance Program: Closeout Report for State Fiscal Year 2017,” which is posted at for

Thurston County Food Bank
Each year, WSDA’s Food Assistance programs collect data from food pantries and tribal voucher programs and food pantries to help develop the best strategies for responding effectively to hunger needs in our state. Currently, an estimated 1 in 6 people in Washington use the services of their local food pantry at least once each year.

In the last fiscal year, from July 2016 through June 2017, our state’s food pantries provided a pound of food to each client served, at an average cost of 29 cents per pound. By comparison, the fair market value for a pound of food is $1.73. This is a 6 to 1 return on investment.

Some other facts from the food assistance report for the 2017 fiscal year:
  • Food pantries distributed 140.47 million pounds of food.
  • Food pantries served 1.16 million clients. 
  • Clients visited a food pantry an average of 6.91 times per year. 
  • Each client received an average of 17.51 lbs. of food per visit.
Tribal food assistance 

WSDA’s Food Assistance programs provide funding to support both tribal food pantries and voucher programs. In the past fiscal year, several tribes used some or all of their food assistance money to fund their own food pantries. Generally, these pantries also saw declines in total client visits, a decrease in pounds of food provided per client and fewer total pounds distributed.

Tribes provided food vouchers to 8,349 new clients, a decline of 8.9 percent from the previous year. However, there was a slight increase in returning clients.

Looking ahead 

While there have been improvements in Washington’s economy, the data shows a continued need among those who rely on the emergency food system as shown through the continued elevated level of returning client visits since the recession.

In the coming year, WSDA Food Assistance programs plan to focus on increasing the variety and nutrient density of foods available to clients by continuing its Farm to Food Pantry initiative as well as working with the Food Assistance Advisory Committee, the agricultural community and tribal partners to develop strategies for addressing the continued  need for food assistance in our state.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Strangles reported in Whidbey Island horses, but an issue for all horse owners

Dr. Amber Itle
Assistant State Veterinarian 

Last week, strangles was diagnosed in a horse and two ponies at a Whidbey Island stable. There are a total of five horses and two ponies on the premise and the infected animals were recently purchased from a sale yard in Oregon.

While there is no formal quarantine for the facility, the owners have committed to isolating the infected horse and ponies, which are all under the supervision of a veterinarian. Additionally, no animals are currently being allowed on or off the premise.

Strangles is rarely fatal and the prognosis for recovery is usually very good with proper care. But as the name suggests, strangles can affect a horse’s respiratory system. Typically, signs of the disease include:

  • Fever.
  • Abscesses in the mandibular lymph nodes.
  • Nasal discharge that can include thick white and yellow mucus.
  • Inflammation of the throat.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Coughing.
  • In rare cases, bleeding from the capillaries.
While strangles is contagious and endemic in Washington, it is not usually fatal. Still, it is a reportable disease, meaning any diagnoses of strangles should be reported to the Washington State Veterinarian's Office.

The best protection against strangles is practicing good biosecurity. Here are some other suggestions from the Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC):
  • When possible, isolate new horses for up to three weeks when they are being introduced to a new facility. 
  • During an outbreak, such as the situation at the Whidbey Island facility, avoid coming in contact with susceptible animals after handling an infected animal. 
  • Wear protective clothing, avoid using the same equipment on multiple animals, and disinfect both your hands and equipment when moving between animals.
The EDCC also publishes this “Strangles Fact Sheet,” which has more tips and suggestions.

Veterinarians should alert the State Veterinarian's Office of reportable diseases by calling (360) 902-1878.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Aquaculture coordinator signals new focus on shellfish and seafood industry for WSDA

Hector Castro

Washington has long been known for its oysters, geoducks and other shellfish that make up our state’s aquaculture industry. Now, WSDA is prepared to expand its role in working with the growers and harvesters of these agricultural products.
Laura Butler, WSDA aquaculture coordinator

In November, WSDA announced the creation of a new position at the agency, an aquaculture coordinator, to be filled by former Policy Advisor Laura Butler, who has a background in agricultural sciences and experience working in public policy.

The initial scope of work for this position will include:

  • Conducting introductory and outreach meetings with growers to understand their challenges.  
  • Providing outreach, education and technical assistance to local governments to learn about their processes and help them better understand the needs of the aquaculture industry.
  • Facilitating interagency coordination to streamline regulatory processes and identify areas where rules or regulations are redundant.  

WSDA’s aquaculture coordinator will also be a liaison to the Governor’s Office, other state agencies and external partners. In addition, this position is expected to coordinate efforts within the Washington Shellfish Initiative and co-chair the Department of Ecology’s Interagency Permitting Team.

Fish and seafood are among Washington's top exports, with $1.1 billion worth of product shipped to markets in Canada, Japan, China and other countries.

Thanks to the efforts of the aquaculture industry during the 2017 legislative session, the first year of the coordinator position is fully funded.