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.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Celebrate Taste of Washington Day

Chris Iberle
WSDA Farm to School & Value Chains Specialist

Lentil sloppy joes, farmers sitting with school children, and the Washington Apple Crunch are all part of Taste Washington Day on October 3, when schools across the state will showcase locally grown foods in their cafeterias.

A past year's La Conner School District Taste Washington
 Day menu featured broccoli from Hedlin Farm in Mt. Vernon
The annual event highlights how school districts and our state’s agricultural industry can collaborate to provide locally-sourced school meals throughout the school year and celebrate farming across the state.

For the eighth year running, farmers and schools will partner with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Child Nutrition, and the Washington State Nutrition Association to feature Washington-grown foods in school cafeteria meals and celebrate farm to school programs.

So get ready to enjoy some white bean chicken chili, fresh Washington milk and kale Caesar salads, but make sure to save some room for one more big bite, the Washington Apple Crunch!

“The Farm to School initiative is a great reminder of the benefits of collaboration,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. “For schools, it is a way to source locally produced foods to serve in their cafeterias, farmers are able to make connections that could provide another revenue source, and children enjoy lunch from crops grown in their home state.”

Riverview School District's Taste Washington Trolley
 filled with dragon tongue beans, lemon cucumbers,
Easter egg radishes, rainbow carrots, and green peppers.
Gov. Jay Inslee has proclaimed Oct. 3 as Taste Washington Day, recognizing the farmers that feed us and put locally grown food in our school cafeterias.

Schools sign up with WSDA to share information about their local menus, ingredients, or other Farm to School activities they have planned for the day. Schools also get free templates and materials from WSDA for their promotions.

Twenty-seven school districts and 20 farms are signed up so far this year. There’s still time for more to sign up, and over 50 districts are expected to participate. Some schools plan special events for Taste Washington Day, such as inviting a farmer to lunch, visits to school gardens, or doing the Washington Apple Crunch - when schools or classes all bite into a Washington apple at the same time, usually at noon.

“School Nutrition Programs all across Washington will spotlight our state's bountiful offerings of locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as locally raised beef, chicken and pork. These events provide opportunities to invite farmers to the classroom, plan a school garden, teach our kids about where our food comes from and encourage them to taste something new and fresh”, said Vickie Ayers, President of the Washington School Nutrition Association.

Putting it all together. School cafeteria cooks deliver
 flavor with locally sourced meat and produce. 
Farmers sign up with WSDA to be a part of Taste Washington Day and sell their products to schools or participate in school activities. WSDA Farm to School sends a list of farms that have signed up to participating schools and helps with local food procurement by matching farms and schools, finding farmers to participate in school events, and other logistics.

This year, schools are planning all kinds of activities.

Sometimes the farm is already at the school. WSDA staff visiting
 the Freedom Farmers at Olympia School District for
 Taste Washington Day 2017
Lopez Island School District has been serving meals made of ingredients from within 25 miles of the school throughout September, including produce from the Lopez Island Farm Education program’s school garden. Pullman Public Schools will serve Washington grown lentil sloppy joes and brownies and feature a visit from Mr. Lentil. Grandview School District will do a large Washington Apple Crunch at noon with teachers and students in classrooms and cafeterias across the district.

This is the first Taste Washington Day put on with support from the Washington State Farm to School Network. Launched in May 2018, with over 160 members, network members include school nutrition staff, farmers, teachers, school gardeners, non-profits and state agencies working together to grow farm to school in the state. Through the network, members are learning from each other, sharing resources, and many are a part of Taste Washington Day celebrations. The Washington State Farm to School Network is also a way to find out what’s happening with farm to school in your community, get involved, and illustrate the impacts of farm to school across the state.

Taste Washington Day is popular with farmers, school administrators, students and parents. Many participating schools use the day to highlight what “farm to school” means to them.  At least 100 districts in Washington State do some form of farm to school throughout the year, such as buying foods from Washington farmers or offering agricultural education. The USDA estimates schools spend over $17 million on Washington grown produce during the school year.

Visit the WSDA Farm to School program’s Taste Washington Day web page for more information or contact Chris Iberle at (206) 256-1874.

Friday, September 21, 2018

$4.6 million awarded for Washington specialty crops

Leisa Schumaker 
WSDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program 

Could extracts from wood decay fungi be used to formulate treatments for honey bee viruses? Could a novel strain of fungus be used as a biological control agent to control bee-killing Varroa mites? Washington State University researchers think so, and with the help of a new, quarter million dollar federal grant, they are continuing research that could improve honey bee health and the long-term vitality of Washington’s tree fruit, berry, vegetable, and horticultural crops.
WSU bee researchers are among 25 Washington recipients
 of 2018 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.  

WSU bee researchers are among 25 recipients of $4.6 million in 2018 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds awarded by WSDA for innovative projects to support the state’s fruit, vegetable, and nursery industry through the federal Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBG).

The SCBG Program was created to support the competitiveness of the specialty crop industry through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. In awarding these funds, WSDA selected projects that will directly benefit specialty crop producers, address critical issues to the industry, and contain strong performance measures.

Awards for individual projects range from $25,000 to $250,000 and will go to agricultural commodity commissions, non-profit organizations, Washington State University, USDA-ARS and WSDA.

This year the block grant is funding a variety of projects including some designed to ensure the sustainability of honey bee pollination, grow wholesale prospects for specialty crop producers in Whatcom and Skagit counties, evaluate agriculture water disinfection treatments, and detect potato pathogens. Berries, potatoes, cucurbit crops, tree fruit, asparagus, horticultural seeds, wine grapes, and apples all stand to benefit from these projects.

New application deadline

If you are interested in applying for a grant, please note: the application period for WSDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has been moved up by several months this year. The Request for Concept Proposals (RFCP) released this month has a 4 p.m., November 2, 2018 deadline. In past years the proposals were due in February. The new RFCP period gives applicants an additional month to complete the concept proposals for projects that would be funded in 2019.

Other grant program changes

In addition to the new deadline, the SCBG program will no longer accept Food Safety Research projects through the competitive process. Food Safety projects for Washington should be submitted through the Center for Produce Safety’s (CPS) competitive process, where they will be reviewed for eligibility, evaluated and scored through their technical review process. Top projects benefiting Washington specialty crops that make it through CPS’s competitive process will be provided to WSDA for possible funding.

The first step in applying for grant funding is to submit a brief concept proposal through our online application system. WSDA staff will review the concept proposals. Successful applicants will be asked to submit full proposals for further review.

Visit the SCBG webpage for application information, forms and schedules. For additional SCBG information, go to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service webpage or contact WSDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program manager Leisa Schumaker at or (360) 902-2091.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Climbing trees to protect the environment

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

Tiffany Pahs takes a selfie up in the tree canopy
Last month a team of nine WSDA biologists learned how to do something most hadn’t done since childhood – climb trees.

The tree climbing training was held at USDA’s Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) eradication facility in Ohio. The five-day course was the start of an effort to build the skills of agency staff and prepare them to respond rapidly to new invasive pest detections.

The week included learning various ways to climb and move about the canopy of trees, learning the characteristics of different species of trees and which are appropriate for climbing, and of course, safety. Each person received one-on-one training with an instructor. One instructor said the course was like trying to cram one year of tree climbing knowledge into a week.

Susan Brush high up in the trees
“It was fun, but exhausting,” Tiffany Pahs, gypsy moth survey coordinator for WSDA’s pest program, said.

In addition to the mechanics of climbing trees, the team also had classroom time when they learned how to identify ALB and the damage they cause to trees.
Gear used to help climb trees

“When it comes to inspecting damage high up in the canopy of a tree, there are really only two options – climb up to inspect the damage or cut the tree down. With this training, we can inspect trees while keeping them standing,” Pahs said.
Merely by being present at the training location brought home the reality of the massive damage that invasive pests can do to the team. When training, they would hear trees crash to the ground – dead and falling ash trees destroyed by Emerald Ash Borer infestations.

The week-long training was the start of a certification process for both climbing trees and inspecting them for insect damage. The team plans to continue their training and become fully certified in the upcoming months.

When it comes to invasive species, early detection and rapid response are critical to contain and eradicate tree pests. These new skills will enable WSDA to respond rapidly to an invasive pest detection in our trees, potentially preventing the establishment of pests that could otherwise destroy the Evergreen State.

WSDA pest program biologists and their tree climbing instructors
To learn more about this USDA program, check out this blog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fighting hunger together

Nichole Garden
WSDA Food Assistance 

Food pantries, hunger relief agencies, and others dedicated to fighting hunger will gather in Yakima September 12th – 14th for the Washington Food Coalition (WFC) conference. The annual conference provides a unique opportunity for those interested in hunger relief in Washington to share best practices, tools, and resources; hear about new and innovative programs and services; and network with others who share in a commitment to alleviate hunger.

The conference will feature speakers, breakout sessions, and tours, including:

  • Keynote speakers discussing the growth of food insecurity on college campuses 
  • A panel discussion with current Farm to Food Pantry participants
  • Touring Rainier Fruit, a family owned and operated farm that grows and sells organic apples, pears, cherries, and blueberries

In addition to facilitating the Farm to Food Pantry panel discussion, the WSDA will staff a booth. Attendees can visit the WSDA Food Assistance programs resource booth to show their support of the Farm to Food Pantry initiative by donning a F2FP temporary tattoo, posing for a picture, and posting it on social media with the hashtag #Farm2FoodPantry.

Cow proudly displaying F2FP "tattoo"
WSDA’s resource booth will also feature new resources now available in English, Spanish, Russian, and Ukrainian. These resources include Washington Grown Produce posters and brochures as well as MyPantry posters and recipe cards highlighting where the commodity foods available at food pantries fit into USDA’s MyPlate. 

Visit WFC’s website o learn more or register for the conference. WFC represents a unified voice in the emergency food system, providing technical assistance and advocacy for hunger relief agencies.