Monday, June 18, 2018

American Flowers Week promotes cut-flower producers

Katie Lynd
Regional Markets Program

Red, white and blue… blooms? We’ll be seeing these patriotic colors as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Now, for the fourth consecutive year, they take center stage during American Flowers Week (June 28-July 4) – a time to highlight local flowers and the people who grow and design with them.

Close to home, WSDA Regional Markets and the Washington State Farm Bureau are partnering on a project funded by a WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant to market and promote Washington cut flowers. By promoting American Flowers Week through social media with the hashtag #americanflowersweek, #WAgrown, and #WAflowers, project partners hope to make more flower growers in Washington aware of this marketing opportunity and help consumers get to know where their blooms come from.

Triple Wren Farms with their cut flowers in Ferndale, WA
American Flowers Week, a project of SlowFlowers.com engages the public, policymakers and the media in a conversation about the origins of their flowers. The campaign is timed to coincide with America’s Independence Day on July 4th, providing florists, retailers, wholesalers and flower farmers a patriotic opportunity to promote American-grown flowers.

“Red, white and blue blooms and bouquets are encouraged,” says campaign founder Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers. "With Washington's status as the nation's second largest state producing cut flowers, flower farmers and florists in the Evergreen State have a unique platform to tell their story through local and seasonal flowers."

How can you get involved? Share your photos of local flowers on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – and don’t forget to tag your farmer or florist! You can also use the visual resources available at AmericanFlowersWeek.com, including logos and social media badges, a coloring map and downloadable fact sheets and infographics.

We can’t wait to see what creative endeavors our farming community brings to #americanflowersweek. Share your blooms and include #WAgrown and #WAflowers as well. We hope to highlight some farms and flowers on WSDA’s social media channels later this month. Join us for American Flowers Week!





Thursday, June 14, 2018

WSDA report examines the challenge of getting local produce to schools and other institutions

Chris Iberle
WSDA Regional Markets 

Serving local produce and minimally processed foods is a goal for many school cafeterias and other institutions, but there are challenges to reaching that end. To understand the challenges and potential solutions better, WSDA’s Regional Markets team studied supply chains in Washington state for local, minimally processed food from farm to school for 2016-2017.

The study, “Value Chain Strategies for Source-Identified Minimally Processed Produce for the School Market,” was completed earlier this year.

The study also sought to identify strategies for developing a “value chain” infrastructure and building relationships to help local farms meet the demand for these products from schools, hospitals, and other institutional buyers.

The value chain model 

A value chain model is one that considers how value is added to a product or service at each step along the supply chain to best meet customer needs. The model seeks to maximize the business benefit that comes from engaging interested parties at all steps along the chain, from the initial supplier through the end customer.

Value chains often provide increased transparency so it is clear where the food is coming from and how it is produced. They also foster collaboration between suppliers, distributors, processors, sellers, and buyers.

Many value chains help develop relationships among the various partners built on shared values, reflected in their business operations and the products they make. Below are some of the findings of the report.

Farmers working together 

In Washington state, several different groups of farmers have formed cooperatives and food hubs in order to develop value chain relationships with processors, other food businesses, and their end customers.

WSDA studied some of these food hubs and small farmer co-ops to understand what barriers they encounter when developing source-identified, minimally processed products such as fresh cut fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, or Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) vegetables and berries, for schools and institutional markets. WSDA also identified some strategies that farmers and food hubs are using to overcome those barriers and meet school demand for minimally processed produce.

Access to processing

The availability of appropriate, minimal processing infrastructure, such as space and equipment to cut, freeze or dehydrate food, varies widely depending on the region and the crop. Finding scale-appropriate processing equipment and meeting minimum volume requirements for frozen processors was especially challenging. While fresh cut processing services are available in some regions and for some products, the lack of information about them and the lack of coordination among these services means less access for smaller farms.

Existing and emerging supply chain models

One emerging supply chain model for providing source-identified, minimally processed fruits and vegetables to schools and other higher-volume markets appears to be food hubs, which are currently poised to meet this demand in three main ways, each with their own opportunities and challenges:
  1. Processing capacity: Some food hubs have developed internal infrastructure to process their own members’ produce into specific products. They are still working to refine their operations, marketing, and suppliers to achieve a financially and operationally viable business model. 
  2. Sales of farmer-processed products: Some food hubs do not have their own processing infrastructure, but may have individual farmer members who already produce their own processed product that is sold through the food hub. This may offer a good fit for meeting institutional buyer needs.
  3. New partnerships: Some farms and food hubs already sell to a small or medium sized processor, and could launch or develop source-identified products with a processor to better serve K-12 school buyer needs. 
Learning from businesses building new relationships

Through interviews and surveys, WSDA learned more about traditional supply chain operators, such as conventional processors, and emerging alternatives, like food hubs and farmer cooperatives, and believe both can learn from each other to foster value chain development.

Conventional and traditional agricultural minimal processing infrastructure either no longer exists or has consolidated to serve primarily high-volume, larger-scale farms. This leaves little room for custom runs to serve smaller farms or for purchasing raw product from smaller-scale suppliers. Traditional processors have developed flexible, competitively-priced products that meet some school buyer needs, but face challenges sourcing from local farms and building value chain partnerships, such as co-packing for farmers, food hubs, or schools.

Negotiating values, relationships, and new participants

WSDA tried to understand whether new physical infrastructure are needed to fill the supply chain gap, or whether new relationships and integrating new participants in the value chain could fill this need.

Overall, there is high demand for specialized, mechanized facilities and equipment for processing, product storage, and transportation at small and medium scales, oriented to local regional markets. Until further investment in infrastructure is made, or capacity for new processing is built within current staffing or facilities, food hubs and small to mid-sized farms will have very limited access to the processing services they need within their region.

The full report includes a profile of the five food hubs that participated in the research project, and four case studies on specific products (dried treefruit, sliced carrots, frozen strawberries, and bagged salad mix).

To assist food hubs and small farmer co-ops with these issues, WSDA developed a toolkit for product development and potential supply chain partnerships. This also includes a Salesforce database to help with networking and referral services to support regional links in produce value chains. Simply email farmtoschool@agr.wa.gov to request these resources.

This project was funded and made possible thanks to a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Help track the lily leaf beetle

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

Lily leaf beetles mating
Warmer weather and flowers are here and so is the lily leaf beetle! For the second year in a row, the Washington State Department of Agriculture is enlisting help from local gardeners to track this pest. Last year WSDA was seeking to collect the pest itself. This year we need help to track the development, life cycle and spread of this invasive beetle that threatens both homegrown and commercial lilies and fritillaries.

The beetle only recently invaded the Pacific Northwest and we do not know how (or if) its seasonal lifecycle differs from other locations where it has been found. So far, the beetles have been found in Redmond, Bellevue, Renton, Issaquah, and a gardener recently found one as far south as Maple Valley.

With the help of local gardeners, WSDA is hoping to learn:

  • When the beetle starts to mate and lay eggs.
  • When new generations emerge each summer.
  • When it stops reproducing and begins to overwinter at the end of the year.

Confirmed lily leaf beetle sightings as of May 31, 2018
Tracking the precise timing of the lily leaf beetle’s lifecycle will enable researchers and gardeners to know when to start looking for this pest and when different control activities – like releasing our parasitoid wasps – should be implemented.

You can help with this effort by simply scouting your lilies weekly and reporting what you see. WSU Extension and WSDA have created a website where your observations can be easily uploaded, giving us real-time mapping of this pest’s lifecycle. The lifecycle reporting website is located here. You can also find more information about the lily leaf beetle from Washington State University and in a previous WSDA blog post.

WSDA entomologist Maggie Freeman is heading up the lily leaf beetle project. You can email her with any questions about the project at mfreeman@agr.wa.gov.

We wouldn’t be able to understand the life cycle of the lily leaf beetle locally or develop ways to control them without your help.