Monday, April 30, 2018

Gypsy moth caterpillar spraying - what to expect

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

In May, WSDA’s pest program will begin their project to eradicate gypsy moth populations detected in the Graham and Silverdale areas. Having been in many of the spray areas during the 2016 eradication project, I want to let people who live in or near one of the 2018 gypsy moth treatment areas what they can expect this year.

The day before treatments

Treatments are highly dependent on the weather, so WSDA usually makes the decision to spray about 24 hours in advance. If you have signed up for treatment notifications, you will receive an email, text, or robocall the day before treatments begin. We also post notice of pending treatments on WSDA’s Facebook and Twitter

The product used to treat for gypsy moth is Foray 48B. The active ingredient is Btk – a soil bacteria. Foray 48B is approved for use on organic food crops.

People who live in areas to be treated may want to close their windows, bring in outside toys, or cover their cars. Foray 48B is sticky, so bring in or cover outdoor items to prevent the need to wash them off after the treatments.

Cover or put your car in a garage to avoid having to clean
Btk off of your car. It is sticky.
If Btk does get on your car or other outdoor items, don’t worry – it won’t damage them. But because it is sticky, you will probably want to wash it off with soap and water as soon as possible. My car was in the spray zone for several treatments over a couple of weeks and one trip through the carwash removed all of the sticky residue. Luckily, Btk is much easier to remove than gypsy moth caterpillar droppings!

Treatment day

Airplane applying Btk - a soil bacteria - during 2016
gypsy moth eradication
Gypsy moth caterpillar spraying starts as early in the morning as possible – usually around sunrise (the pilot cannot legally spray in the dark) if the weather is good. Fog or wind, for example, can delay or even cancel spraying for the day.

Treatments will be conducted by airplane. The plane is red and white. It will fly over the treatment area at a relatively low altitude – about 250 feet above the ground. You may hear the airplane but I'm happy to say that it is much quieter than a helicopter, which WSDA has used for these treatments in the past.

The plane will make several passes over each treatment area until the entire area has been covered. The plane has guidance systems and GPS to make sure that it is on target. The release of the Btk automatically starts when the plane enters the treatment area and stops when the plane leaves, ensuring that only the target area is treated.

The spray comes out in a very fine mist. It is so fine, in fact, that if you are outside when the Btk is applied you will not even feel the spray. I didn't and neither did the other WSDA employees in the treatment areas in 2016. You will notice an odor in the air; it has a bit of an earthy scent to it.

The Washington State Department of Health says that Btk – and Foray 48B specifically – poses very low risk to human health. Still, if you want to avoid contact with the spray, the Department of Health recommends remaining indoors during the spray and for 30 minutes afterward. If you do come in contact with the spray, they recommend washing with soap and water. I was in the spray area several times in 2016, washed with soap and water when I returned to the office and didn’t have any problems.

Even as safe as Btk is, if you believe you have had some reaction to the spray, you should see your doctor and/or report it to the Department of Health at 1-877-485-7316.

After treatments

Fine mist of Btk left on gypsy moth sample during treatment
As each treatment is completed at each site, those who have signed up for notices will receive a text message or robocall letting them know treatment is complete for the day. When treatments at both sites are complete, an email message will go out to those who have signed up for email alerts. We will also have real-time updates on Twitter letting people know when treatments are complete.

Because the gypsy moth caterpillars emerge over a period of about two weeks and Btk breaks down quickly in the environment, each site will be treated at least three times, with 3-14 days between treatments depending on the weather. You can expect the same pre- and post-treatment notification each time.

Summer trapping

After all gypsy moth caterpillar spraying is complete for the year, the next step will be to conduct intensive trapping for two years. This confirms the success of the eradication project. So you will likely see our traps in trees in your neighborhood or along a road. Please do not disturb them.

Gypsy moth caterpillars defoliated this forest in 2016
I have visited areas with gypsy moth infestations twice in my life. Seeing first-hand the damage they can do is astounding. Witnessing entire forests defoliated - and even trees killed - by gypsy moth caterpillars and having the "pleasure" of experiencing the gypsy moth caterpillar rash and poop falling like rain is something I'll never forget. It really brought home the reason - and continued need - for WSDA to keep gypsy moths from becoming established in our state as they have for 40 years.

If you have any questions about the eradication project or our gypsy moth program, you can visit our website at or call our gypsy moth hotline at 1-800-443-6684.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pesticide applicators can take steps to reduce drift

Joel Kangiser
Pesticide Management Division

Measuring nozzle output, as
practiced in a WSDA training
for pesticide applicators. 
As crop-planting and growing season gets into full swing, now is peak time for applying pesticides across Washington agriculture country. Pesticide applicators are responsible for assuring that pesticides do not drift off-target. 

Last year, WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division investigated 161 incidents involving potential violations of the state’s pesticide laws and 64 of those involved allegations of pesticides drifting onto neighboring property. So far this year, WSDA has received nine complaints of pesticide drift and most involve potential human exposure. All are currently being investigated. 

To ensure that pesticides do not drift beyond the intended treatment area, WSDA offers the following suggestions to reduce the risk.

  • Read the label on the pesticides being applied and abide by all precautions and restrictions on safe handling, necessary protective equipment, buffers, the effect on crops and more.  
  • Pay special attention near sensitive areas such as highways, homes, schools and other occupied dwellings or where workers are present. 
  • Properly calibrate equipment, using the proper nozzles and pressure to keep the spray on-target.
  • Based on the amount of foliage and tree size and shape, optimize your sprayer by using the appropriate volumes of water and air, and the correct pressure and nozzle size.  
  • Scout the areas bordering the place that’s being treated.
  • Evaluate conditions such as wind speed, wind direction, and temperature.
  • Stop applying immediately if conditions change in ways that increase the risk of drift to unsafe levels or if anyone approaches the area without proper protection.  
    Illustration of the steps to calibrate a sprayer, from a
    WSDA training presentation for pesticide applicators.

WSDA licenses about 28,000 pesticide applicators, dealers, consultants and inspectors. Licensees are trained to apply pesticides safely. If problems do occur, WSDA will investigate complaints that allege the state’s pesticide laws have been violated -- including cases of drift, worker exposure, or environmental harm. 

To file a complaint, email or call toll free to 1-877-301-4555. When you call, have as much information as possible ready to share with the investigator. 

The state Department of Health investigates potential cases of pesticide illnesses. Visit their website for more information. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Farm to Food Pantry– a win-win for farmers and food pantries

Nichole Garden
Food Assistance 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Food Assistance programs, in partnership with Rotary First Harvest, is kicking off the fifth year of its Farm to Food Pantry initiative. The goal is to make more fresh produce available to hungry people by connecting local farms to food pantries. This initiative also helps promote a community-based food system, increasing the viability and success of both agricultural producers and emergency food assistance providers.

What is the Farm to Food Pantry Initiative?

WSDA contracts with Rotary First Harvest of Seattle to coordinate the allocation of grant funds. These funds are distributed to lead agencies involved in the emergency food system that, in turn, use the money to buy produce directly from local growers. These lead agencies are asked to obtain matching funds from private groups, in some cases doubling the amount available to purchase produce.

What’s New?

WSDA has launched a Farm to Food Pantry Seal that lead agencies, food pantries, farmers, and donors can use to display their participation in the initiative. The seal was created as part of a collaboration between WSDA and Farm to Food Pantry participants. Elements included in the seal  came from the feedback we received when speaking with the farmers, food pantries and lead agencies that will use it. This seal is meant to give farmers a marketing tool for their produce and food pantries a tool to leverage additional donations.

What Impact is the Initiative Making?

Since our pilot in 2014, WSDA has invested $98,467 in the initiative, with $77,000 of that going directly to farmers. Farmers also received $52,181 in local match and SNAP-Ed funding for a grand total of $129,181 targeted for farm direct purchases. This resulted in food pantries receiving over 395,882 lbs. of purchased, donated, and/or gleaned, nutrient dense produce to distribute to low-income families in the state of Washington.

Next Steps

This year, WSDA has carved out $33,000 in existing state and SNAP-Ed funds to pay local farmers in 18 Washington counties. These counties include: Asotin, Chelan, Clallam, Clark, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Island, Jefferson, King, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skagit, Snohomish, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman, and Yakima. In addition to the 12 lead agencies participating in 2017, Opportunities Industrialization Center in Yakima and the South King County Food Coalition in Des Moines are joining the initiative for the first time.

Where can I Learn More?

More details on the initiative, with feedback from the participating food pantries and farmers are included in the 2017 Farm to Food Pantry Report. Visit our Farm to Food Pantry webpage  to review the report, past reports and learn more about our project. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Practicing to protect the food supply post-disaster

Sonia Soelter
WSDA Emergency Management

Last month several WSDA staff participated in a multi-agency exercise to prepare for one of the least-known agency responsibilities: protecting the food supply after a
radiological incident.

PNW’s only nuclear power plant 

Columbia Generating Station near Richland
The Pacific Northwest has only one active nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generation Station (CGS). The federal government requires that nuclear facilities such as CGS demonstrate that they can appropriately respond to protect the public if there were an incident at the facility that resulted in the release of harmful levels of radiation. They demonstrate this readiness by having regular exercises that simulate nuclear incidents. Several local and state agencies participate in these exercises, including WSDA.

Protecting the food supply

WSDA plays a critical role ensuring the safety of the food supply both at the time of a radiological material release and in the months that follow. The agency has two main responsibilities:

  • Issuing an “ag advisory” which provides the community with advice about how to protect their food and water supplies from potential radiological exposure. 
  • Establishing food control areas to prevent contaminated food from entering the food supply chain. 

It was the first of these responsibilities – issuing the ag advisory – that WSDA staff practiced during last month’s exercise.

Practice makes perfect

WSDA’s Rapid Response and Emergency Management Program works closely with the Food Safety and Consumer Services Division, the Animal Services Division and the Communications Office to plan, prepare for, and practice for these events.

During the exercise, participants play out a fictitious scenario using real-world data. For example, the scenario may be that a malfunction has resulted in the release of a plume of radiation. Exercise participants then use real-time weather information to make decisions about how to respond to the incident.

During the exercise, WSDA food-safety staff work with county representatives to identify which counties may be impacted by the scenario. They use this information to draft the ag advisory, which is then coordinated with the other participating agencies and released to the media. Speed is key to getting the advisory out, so farmers and the public can take to protect food and water supplies before any potential exposure. The ag advisory recommends things like:

  • Sheltering animals.
  • Covering animal food and water supplies.
  • Not transporting agricultural products out of the area.

Feedback from other exercise participants, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency  (FEMA) which monitored and graded the exercise, was positive. WSDA staff have dramatically sped up the process for issuing the ag advisory over the years, and they continue to look for ways to improve.

The real-world implication for the public is that they will get information in time to take actions to protect our food supply, which is important for both the health of Washingtonians and our agricultural economy.

As WSDA practices for emergencies, we encourage residents to prepare as well. Check out our website for information about WSDA’s disaster response and how you can prepare for emergencies, such as a nuclear event.

Interested in learning more about the Columbia Generating Station? Check out the video below!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Nine ways to celebrate Washington Shellfish Week April 15–21

Karla Salp

Washington state leads the nation in the production of many agriculture commodities, such as apples, cherries, and even tulip bulbs. But another commodity in which we are tops is sometimes forgotten: shellfish.

Enjoyed for generations

Shellfish – including oysters, clams and muscles – have long been an important staple of area’s diet as tribal communities harvested and enjoyed shellfish from the Puget Sound and coastal beaches for generations. Today, both tribes and Washington’s shellfish farmers continue the tradition and cultivate shellfish that are enjoyed both locally and around the world; over 20 million pounds of shellfish are produced in Washington’s waters each year.

Boon to the environment

The fact that Washington leads the nation in shellfish production is good news not only for the economy, but for the environment as well.

Shellfish are a key part of our marine ecosystems by helping filter and clean water which in turn promotes healthy growth of seagrass habitats.

Shellfish beds also act like reefs, providing habitat and increasing biodiversity in our waters. Scientists consistently find higher populations of marine life around shellfish beds.

Threats to shellfish

No agricultural endeavor is without its challenges, though, and shellfish are no different.

Less than 4% of historic core populations of native Olympia oysters remain in Puget Sound. Shellfish growers and the Washington State Shellfish Initiative are working to restore historic locations that will create nearshore habitat and natural filtration.

Shellfish also face pressure from invasive species, ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, habitat destruction and urban runoff. Shellfish growers, researchers and many government agencies are working together to identify and mitigate the threats to our shellfish, ensuring that shellfish will continue to remain a Washington staple for generations to come.

Join the celebration

Here are nine ideas for digging into Washington Shellfish Week:

Whether you are a shellfish lover or just appreciate their environmental benefits, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate shellfish this week.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Spring is here – time to vaccinate your horse for West Nile virus

Dr. Thomas Gilliom
WSDA field veterinarian 

Mosquito season is upon us which means it’s time to make sure your horses are vaccinated for West Nile virus. Washington often reports more cases of West Nile virus in horses than most other states in the nation, making vaccinations all the more important.

Usually, most confirmed cases of West Nile virus are in the central and eastern part of our state. Cases crop up beginning in late spring and through the summer and fall, which is also prime mosquito season.

Since the virus spreads by mosquitoes, there are no mass outbreaks affecting several horses at once, but rather just one or two cases at a time. Last year, nine horses were diagnosed with West Nile virus statewide, but just two years earlier, 36 cases were reported in Washington, with several horses dying or being euthanized as a result of the disease.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds and while it can sicken people, horses, birds and other animals, it does not directly spread from horses to people or other animals.

Most horses exposed to the West Nile virus don’t show any symptoms. When they do become ill, however, symptoms can include lack of coordination, loss of appetite, confusion, fever, stiffness, and muscle weakness, particularly in their hindquarters. The disease is fatal in about a third of the cases where these symptoms show up.

West Nile virus can be prevented with vaccination and spring is when horse owners should plan to include West Nile virus with annual equine vaccinations.

The vaccine is most effective when given to horses early in the mosquito season. Horses require two doses of the vaccine initially, and then boosters at least annually.

Use insect repellent and fly sheets to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Also,look for and eliminate areas with standing water where mosquitoes can breed. Get rid of old tires or other areas where rain water can accumulate. It’s even a good idea to refresh the water in water troughs weekly.

Veterinarians who diagnose potential West Nile virus cases should contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at (360) 902-1878.

Visit WSDA’s West Nile virus webpage or the state Department of Health for more information.

Friday, April 6, 2018

EHV-1 detected in horse at equine facility, quarantine order issued

Dr. Brian Joseph
Washington State Veterinarian

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has quarantined a facility in King County after a single laboratory-verified case of equine herpes virus EHV-1, neuropathogenic strain, was detected there.

On April 5, a horse at the Gold Creek Equine Facility in Woodinville tested positive for EHV-1. The horse has been moved to an isolated area on the premises and WSDA has quarantined the facility. Temperatures of the horses at the facility will be taken twice daily.

Gold Creek has cooperated fully with the quarantine order and operators there are working to ensure strict biosecurity measures are in place. WSDA is tracing movements of horses off the premises prior to the quarantine and may issue additional quarantine orders if needed.

Given the highly infectious nature of the virus, WSDA is urging horse owners to follow these recommendations:

  • Watch your horse for signs of possible infection, such as:
    • Fever of 102.5F or higher
    • Discharge from the eyes or nose
    • Respiratory symptoms
    • Swelling of the limbs
    • Spontaneous abortions
    • Neurological signs such as unsteady gait, weakness, urine dripping, lack of tail tone and recumbency.
  • Check your horse’s temperature twice daily, ideally first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Also, check before administering medications as some can lower body temperature.
  • Notify your veterinarian immediately if you detect any of the symptoms above. Your veterinarian may want to take nasal swabs for virus detection or blood samples for evidence of exposure to EHV-1.
More information about testing, vaccines and biosecurity can be found in our previous blog about EHV-1.  This is a developing situation. We will update this blog as we learn more.

4/9/18 UPDATE: 

As a precautionary measure, on April 6 WSDA issued quarantine orders for two additional locations in Snohomish County where horses from Gold Creek had been transported prior to WSDA issuing the initial quarantine. The additional locations include a stable in Snohomish and a private residence in Monroe.

Horses at these additional sites are being monitored by veterinarians, but none have shown any signs of illness. All three sites are cooperating with the quarantine orders and are working to ensure strict biosecurity measures are in place.

4/26/18 UPDATE: 

The quarantine at Gold Creek remains in place although no other horses have tested positive or displayed neurological signs. The quarantine will remain until the infected horse, has had two negative tests for EHV-1 (the horse has had one negative swab since the initial detection and is awaiting a second negative test for confirmation.)

The quarantines on the other two facilities have been lifted as no horses tested positive or displayed symptoms.

5/1/18 UPDATE:

We're happy to update that all quarantines have now been lifted, including the quarantine at Gold Creek Equestrian. The horse that initially tested positive at Gold Creek has subsequently had two negative tests and is expected to make a full recovery. No other horses, at Gold Creek or the other two facilities that were quarantined, have tested positive or showed signs of EHV-1. Many thanks to all of these facilities for their excellent response in keeping this detection contained and protecting animal health!

Sign up soon for free pesticide disposal in Eastern Washington

Joe Hoffman
WSDA Waste Pesticide Program

A WSDA employee holds a can of DDT,
collected at a waste pesticide disposal event. 
If you have agricultural or commercial-grade pesticides you want to be rid of, WSDA has a program for you! WSDA’s Waste Pesticide Program provides a free public service collecting unwanted pesticides from farmers, businesses, and public agencies.

Waste pesticide collection events are scheduled in May in four cities in Eastern Washington. If you want to participate, you’ll need to submit in advance an inventory of the products you want disposed. But hurry, deadlines to submit are fast approaching, especially for the first two events.  

Collection site | Inventory due | Event date
Yakima                    April 12              May 8
Prosser                   April 12              May 10
Wenatchee             April 26              May 31

Once you’ve submitted your inventory list, we’ll contact you with details about the exact collection location and time, and what to expect. 

Storage drums holding waste pesticides at a collection event.
Waste pesticide collection events smoothly transfer waste product from pickup trucks and cars to large semis, with trained professionals recording the pesticide container and carefully repackaging it for its long trek to disposal. 

Begun in 1988, the Waste Pesticide Program has collected and properly disposed of more than 3.3 million pounds of waste pesticides from more than 8,250 customers. 

The program aims to reduce the amount of unusable pesticides and prevent currently used pesticides from becoming waste through education and specialized technical assistance. If old pesticides aren’t collected properly, their aging, potentially compromised containers can leak hazardous chemicals into surrounding soil and water.

For more details and instructions on how to submit an inventory, see the program’s webpage or you may email, or call 1-877-301-4555.

UPDATE (5/18/18) - The collection event in Okanogan, scheduled for May 30, has been CANCELLED due to flooding in the area. This collection will be rescheduled at a later date.