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.