Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Results in: Woman-owned business competition, report and ag survey

Micha Ide, Bright Ide Acres, Orting, WA
Image courtesy of The Female Farmer Project

Chris McGann

Earlier this year, WSDA announced a partnership with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Foundation, for a new program to help farm women launch or boost their businesses.
The partnership commenced by

  • Sponsoring a Women Farm to Food Business Competition
  • Conducting a gap analysis of existing training resources
  • Administering a survey of female farmers and entrepreneurs in Washington and Oregon to better understand their business needs and goals. 

Competition winners

Sage Dilts, owner of Barn Owl Bakery on Lopez Island, Wash. won the competition’s $20,000 grand prize. A list of the other prize winners are posted on NASDA Foundation’s Women in Agriculture webpage.

Gap analysis results

Of 49 training programs reviewed for the gap analysis, the report revealed that there are many programs designed to help women farmers launch businesses but far fewer available for the next step.

After starting up, business owners had only a handful of resources to turn to for training that would help expand their offerings to reach statewide and regional markets. Just six business development programs in Oregon and Washington served food entrepreneurs, the study found.

The Women in Agriculture program aims to provide resources to help bridge the gap in training for those in the “grow” stage of business development, the point between the initial business launch and scaling up to reach into national and international markets.

2019 Women in Agriculture Survey 

Lauren Anderson, Grain Artisan Bakery, Snohomish, WA
image courtesy of The Female Farmer Project
NASDA Foundation, WSDA and Oregon Department of Agriculture promoted the effort on social media and collected data from the online surveys from November 1, 2018 to February 28, 2019. A total of 301 women, the majority in Oregon and Washington, completed surveys. They posted the results this month.


Most of the women

  • Sell products at small, local markets (56 percent)
  • Own or worked on a farm (74 percent).
  • Have been developing their business for more than six years (60 percent)
  • Produce plant-based products (52 percent)
  • Have gross annual sales of less than $50,000 (82 percent)
  • Large percentages of those who completed the surveys said they were interested in activities such as help with: 
  • Learning from other women (75 percent)
  • Communication about products (69 percent)
  • Refining products and manufacturing (49 percent)
  • and scaling business teams (49 percent)

Going forward

The results will inform the program’s Women's Farm to Food Accelerator which will begin development in October. The 90-day accelerator will provide training in product development, food safety, marketing and business development to help female farmers bring their products to new state and regional markets. The accelerator will include online modules, peer-to-peer learning, a women’s mentor network, and one-on-one consultations with experts.

For more information about the program contact the (NASDA) Foundation.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Update: Deadly Rabbit Disease on Orcas Island now confirmed in feral rabbits

Chris McGann

RHDV2 has been confirmed in the feral rabbit population on
Orcas Island. WSDA is no longer asking for reports and
 collection of dead wild or feral rabbits on the island.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has confirmed rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) in three feral domestic rabbits found dead on Orcas Island. The findings are part of the ongoing investigation into a case of RHDV2 confirmed on the island last week in pet rabbit that died suddenly.

RHD is a viral disease that causes sudden death in rabbits and can be spread through contact with infected rabbits, their meat or their fur, or materials coming in contact with them. It poses no human health risk.

Reporting dead wild or feral rabbits

Now that the disease has been confirmed in the feral population on Orcas Island, WSDA is no longer asking the public to contact our office for testing of the feral or wild rabbits there. WSDA would still like reports of rabbit mortality on any other island or the mainland to track the virus presence and movement.  Domestic rabbit owners who suspect their rabbits have died from RHDV2 are still urged to contact their veterinarian and the Washington State Veterinarian's Office.

When was the disease detected?

The Orcas Island outbreak response began on July 9, when the state vet's office received a report of a dead domestic pet rabbit from a veterinarian clinic on Orcas Island. The veterinarian and the owner suspected possible RHD and contacted the State Veterinarian’s Office. The remains of the dead rabbit were sent to state and federal animal disease labs for testing. On July 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the disease.


Following the confirmation of RHDV2, Acting State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle, went to Orcas Island to interview the pet owner, talk with local rabbit owners and look for evidence of the disease in the feral population. The infected property is currently under quarantine.

“I talked with several rabbit owners, a breeder, a local veterinarian clinic, an extension agent and an animal rehabilitation center in the area,” Dr. Itle said. “Their cooperation helped me get in contact with a resident who found several dead feral rabbits. After testing those rabbits, we are relatively confident the disease has taken hold in the feral population.  At this time, reports have been localized to a one-square-mile area. No further testing is necessary to confirm that fact.”

How can I prevent the spread of RHDV2?
  • Wash and disinfect hands, clothing, gloves, footwear, cages and equipment between rabbits from different sources.
  • Quarantine new rabbits away from existing ones for 30 days.
  • Keep pet rabbits inside to avoid exposure to environments potentially contaminated by wild/feral rabbits or by people, vehicles or implements that can spread the disease.
  • Immediately contact your veterinarian if you suspect RHD or have sick or freshly dead rabbits.
  • If you have animals not freshly dead, bury them and clean and disinfect any associated shovels or other tools used and wash hands, gloves, footwear and clothes. 
  • If you cannot bury or compost them, double plastic bag them and dispose in a landfill.

Recent history of RHDV2

Prior to this detection, Canadian animal health officials confirmed the disease in feral rabbits in British Columbia in February, 2018. The disease has since been confirmed in 10 locations in and around Vancouver Island. The first case of RHD2 detected in the U.S. was last September in Ohio.

There are two main types of the virus, RHDV1 and RHDV2. The strain found in Ohio was similar to the Canadian RHDV2 strain.

Although RHD poses no risk to human health or other animals, hares, jackrabbits, and wild eastern cottontails may be susceptible to RHDV2. The rabbit that died on Orcas Island was a pet, 2-year-old, male dwarf rabbit. No other rabbits are on the property.

Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians. If a case is suspected, veterinarians should contact APHIS or email to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office.

A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the U.S. Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners.

Avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits. We recommend burying dead rabbits to reduce the risk of disease transmission. Visit WSDA Ag Briefs for more information about RHD.

We recommend that no one move feral or domestic rabbits from Orcas Island.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Checking for pesticides in surface water


Katie Noland measures stream-flow in Burnt
Bridge Creek.
In the dense canopy above Vancouver’s Burnt Bridge Creek, songbirds fill the fresh spring air with full-throated warbles that almost drown out the stream-flow readings WSDA environmental specialist Katie Noland calls out from the water.

“Point four eight zero,” she says against the trills as she shuffles her boots a little deeper, “moving to seven point nine, depth of one point five.”

From the grassy bank on the nearshore, teammate Jadey Ryan enters each detail into the database on a tablet.  

WSDA’s Natural Resources Assessment Section (NRAS) uses these recordings and the levels of pesticides found in the surface water samples to measure stream health in a cross section of streams in Washington.

The work began in 2003 as part of Washington’s response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) listing of some Chinook salmon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As such, all 16 small streams in the survey this year are considered salmon bearing. That means salmon either develop, pass through, or spawn in the stream during their life cycle.  
Jadey Ryan suited up for a day in
the field

WSDA assesses the potential impacts of pesticides on threatened and endangered species and aquatic ecosystems to evaluate if pesticide use is a limiting factor in the recovery of threatened and endangered species.

We’re gathering general pesticide use data, surface water monitoring data, crop types, and crop location data and using it to identify, evaluate and potentially mitigate impacts to ESA-listed species.

Back at Burnt Bridge Creek

The gently flowing water comes up to the knees of Noland’s chest-high, forest green waders – her summer work attire. She’s here twice a month from March through October. 

From the shade of alders and overhanging brambles near the shallows on the far side, she adds a few notes about the aquatic life she observes. 

“One crayfish,” she says, “and a caddisfly.”

“Got it,” says Ryan. 

Switching roles: Jadey Ryan measures stream flow, Katie Noland records the data. 
Source of pesticides

NRAS tests for everything from pesticides used in agriculture and large scale landscaping to those homeowners use on their lawn. Though some of the other monitoring takes place in streams impacted by urban runoff, most of the streams that are monitored flow through agricultural land. 

This sensor records water
 temperature over time. 
Burnt Bridge Creek is the most urban of the monitored creeks this year.

“There’s a little bit of agriculture up at the headwaters, but it’s mostly urban,” Noland explains.

Surface water in both rural and urban areas could carry pesticides. 

WSDA ambassador

Because of the urban locale and the popular trail along the creek, Noland gets a lot of questions from the public at this site. 

“People see us down here and want to know what we’re doing,” she said. “We keep it pretty simple. We tell them that we’re from WSDA and we’re taking water samples to test for pesticides. That sparks a lot of people’s opinions and interests.”

Noland says people generally give her positive feedback. They make comments like: “Great, I’m glad someone is looking into it.” 

What is a pesticide?

Noland says most people don’t know that pesticide is a broad term that covers a lot of chemicals used by homeowners, government agencies managing lands, and agriculture production. 

The chemicals NRAS is checking for include those that prevent, destroy, control, repel, or mitigate any pest or disease – rusts, rats, bugs or weeds to name just a few. So, the chemicals people think of as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides all fall under the broad category of pesticides. 
Jadey Ryan locates sensors in Burnt Bridge Creek. 

In all, NRAS tests surface water samples for 152 pesticide active ingredients and pesticide breakdown products.

Noland says the pesticides detected in Burnt Bridge Creek are commonly found in surface waters across Washington and many have homeowner and crop uses.

NRAS’ most recent water monitoring report shows there were 76 different pesticide and pesticide-related chemicals detected in 2016. Across 13 monitoring sites statewide, 1,752 pesticide detections were confirmed. 

The findings ranged from the 295 detections at one site to nine detections on the low end. 
Of those 1,752 detections, pesticide concentrations exceeded the WSDA assessment criteria in 108 instances.

When we identify a pesticide as a potential problem for an ESA-listed species, the NRAS team provides information to pesticide users and affected communities through presentations and publications. 

Katie Noland takes water samples for the lab. 
Testing samples

Noland carefully scoops up water samples, pouring them into tinted bottles that will be stored on ice on their way to Washington State Department of Ecology's Manchester Environmental lab for testing. 

“We take a lot of bottles of water out,” says Noland. 

During the fall and winter months, Noland, whose background is in environmental science, collects the data that comes back from the lab and works with the NRAS team to write up the report. 

She says it’s a perfect balance between the field work like she’s doing now, and analysis and writing she also enjoys. She says the field work is great, “but I really, really enjoy data and number crunching.”

You can visit the NRAS publications webpage to read monitoring reports and fact sheets from past years.

Monday, July 22, 2019

“Loyal to soil” – Farm walks provide farmer-to-farmer learning

Spoon Full Farm shows a map of their property 
by the Yakima River, which borders it.
Karla Salp

When learning something new, there is no more effective way than getting your hands – or your feet – dirty. That’s where the Washington State University Food Systems and the Tilth Alliance come in.

 Phoebe Autry, garden manager, talks about no-till gardening
WSU has been coordinating educational farm walks for over 15 years. The goal is to provide a venue for farmers to learn from one another about organic, sustainable, and innovative farm and food businesses throughout the state. While farmers are the primary audience, attendees also include researchers, agricultural professionals, and even gardeners.

This month’s first farm walk, for example, was a visit to Spoon Full Farm at Thorp, near Interstate 90 just west of Ellensburg.

Spoon Full Farm is a relatively new diversified farm. They are transforming land which had been a hay farm for decades. Their motto is “loyal to soil” and they see themselves primarily as “soil farmers.” They grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers as well as graze cattle and raise chickens for eggs. But their guiding principle is to choose farming methods – such as no-till – which have been shown to improve soil quality and which they hope will grow better produce.

Anna Brown talks about Spoon Full Farm's rotational grazing
Two dozen attendees walked the 100-acre property to learn more about how Spoon Full Farm operates, ask questions, and see first-hand the benefits and challenges that can accompany no-till practices. During the walk, topics discussed included:
  • Dealing with weeds in a no-till garden
  • Addressing high winds on the farm
  • Rotational intensive grazing of cattle
  • Raising chickens for eggs on pasture
WSDA staff members frequently attend the farm walks to provide resources and ask questions. On this walk, for example, our Regional Markets team brought the hot-off-the-press new Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, or the “green book.” The handbook has fact sheets on a wide variety of topics of interest to new farmers. And our produce safety team provided feedback about good produce safety practices that were being used on the farm as well on the walk.

Mericos Rhodes talks about raising pastured chickens for eggs
If you missed this farm walk, don’t worry – there are several more scheduled throughout the summer on a variety of topics:

You can also find booklets from past farm walks on the Tilth Alliance website. In addition to the WSU Food Systems/Tilth Alliance farm walks, other agricultural organizations also host these valuable experiences. Follow WSDA’s Facebook page and check out our Facebook events calendar to stay informed when they occur.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A stimulating look at plant biostimulants

Eddie Simons
Pesticide Registration and Licensing

If you garden, farm, or endeavor to grow anything in the ground, you’ve become the target audience for a new product marketed under the vague, hyper-modern moniker “biostimulant.”

Biostimulants are used for all kinds of crops in hopes of
increasing yield, improving drought resistance, or repelling pests.
Biostimulants are generating so many claims and so much hype, regulators are racing to keep pace with how to evaluate and classify them. Although the products have been around for decades, they have just recently been recognized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Even as biostimulants make the first steps towards widespread conventional use, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state agencies around the country haven’t agreed on where biostimulants fit in and how it should be regulated, though they seem to belong somewhere near fertilizers, pesticides, or soil amendments.

What is a biostimulant? 

According to the 2018 Farm Bill, a “plant biostimulant” is “…a substance or micro-organism that, when applied to seeds, plants, or the rhizosphere, stimulates natural processes to enhance or benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, tolerance to abiotic stress, or crop quality and yield.” This includes a wide variety of materials, including

Plant extracts
Humic/fulvic acids
Proteins and amino acids (plant or animal origin)
Beneficial elements [Silicon (Si), Aluminum (Al)]
Beneficial bacteria
Beneficial fungi [mycorrhizae]

Why are people interested in using biostimulants in ag?

There is a renewed interest in biostimulants because of what they have the potential to do.  Some of the claimed benefits include

Improved plant and root growth
Improved nutrient use
Resistance to drought, insects, and diseases
Improved end use quality of the harvested crop

What plants are they made from?

The most common plant extract used in biostimulants is from kelp, but others include soy protein hydrolysate, willow bark extract, stinging nettle extract, Yucca extract, and aloe extract.
Kelp growing at a research facility on Puget Sound.

Are they a pesticide? If not, what’s the difference?

Some of these biostimulants meet the definition of a pesticide. For example, seaweed extract contains relatively high levels of phyto-hormones, which increase plant and root growth. This would fall under the pesticide category of “plant regulator” under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Other biostimulants stimulate a plant’s defense mechanisms allowing it to better defend against insect and or disease pressure. This is called Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR) and is another form of pesticide.

Most biostimulants that work on nutrient functions are not pesticides. For example, soil applied humic acid can combine and amplify the availability of nutrients in the soil, allowing for easier uptake by the plant roots. Plus, mycorrhizae will extend throughout the soil, transporting nutrients to the plant roots.

Are there regulatory issues people should know about?

The term “biostimulant” seems to be a marketing term. Parts of the biostimulant industry are trying to separate biostimulants from the definition of a pesticide, but at this point it has not happened. The common definitions of pesticide, fertilizer, soil amendment are all related to primary functions and claims of the product.

Most biostimulants seem to focus on secondary functions and claims, for example, that the hormones will increase root growth, which will improve drought resistance. If the claim is drought resistance, producers tend to think it should not be regulated as a pesticide.

Does WSDA have recommendations about biostimulants?

WSDA does not currently regulate biostimulants differently than any other product.  If a biostimulant meets the definition of a pesticide, it will be regulated as a pesticide.

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) recently sent a letter to the USDA with an opinion on biostimulants and their regulatory status. 

“Creating a single regulatory structure for all products marketed as biostimulants would create confusion with regulators, industry and consumers,” the letter stated. “Products should be regulated based on their intended function, not based on a broad marketing term.”

This letter was intended to help USDA write their report to Congress and the President as mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill.  This report will detail regulatory and non-regulatory options for oversight of biostimulant distribution.

WSDA continues to follow federal and Washington State laws related to pesticides and fertilizers, including biostimulants.  We regulate products based on their intended function, not a non-specific marketing term.  We will continue to follow the actions being taken at the federal level regarding biostimulant regulation.

What should I do?

When looking at new products, think about why you are applying them.  If the purpose is to control a pest or stimulate plant growth (beyond simple nutrition), check that the product is registered as a pesticide.  If the purpose is to supply nutrients to the plant, check that it is registered as a fertilizer.  Most of all, enjoy your time in the garden or with your plant.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Showcasing Shellfish in Willapa Bay

Laura Butler
Washington State Aquaculture Coordinator

Marilyn Sheldon talk about some of the issues faced
by Willapa Bay oyster growers.
I recently joined some folks from the agencies and associations that interface with shellfish growers in Washington for an educational tour of Willapa Bay’s muddy tidelands.

The event, showcasing issues and aspects of shellfish aquaculture in the region, was hosted by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

It drew representatives from Washington state’s departments of Ecology, Health, Fish and Wildlife, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. Also joining were people from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and growers associations.

Willapa Bay has roughly 40,000 acres of tidelands, the backbone for about 10,000 acres of continuously rotating oyster beds owned and operated by Taylor Shellfish Farms, Goose Point Oyster Company, and Northern Oyster Company to name just a few. In addition, the state owns some of these tidelands, those beds are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

In small ponga boat taxis, we made a quick trip up the meandering channels exposed by the low tide to the shimmering fields, where we saw several techniques used to optimize oyster cultivation in the fertile bay responsible for more than a quarter of the country’s oyster production.

Oyster farming techniques 

An oyster dredge at work in Willapa Bay.
We put our muckers to good use with the first steps out of the boat as we slopped around among some of Taylor Shellfish Farms’ oyster beds.

Acres and acres of bottom culturing dominate the seascape. In these expanses, growers simply spread out oysters across the seabed where they grow much like wild oysters would, then harvest them with dredges that scoop them up out of shallow water with a large basked towed behind a low-slung barge.

Oysters suspended above the muck on a long-line setup.
Likewise, young oysters packed into flip-bags that swing from lines in the tide flow fatten up to be served on the half-shell in high-end restaurants around the globe.

Long-lining and flip baskets are more costly than bottom culturing but they help growers capture a different segment by producing beautiful oysters for half-shell market.

Threats to the industry

Burrowing shrimp infestations are increasingly disrupting Willapa Bay oyster operations. When swarms of the shrimp dig into the oyster beds, they destabilize and soften the sea floor causing the oysters to sink into the muck and smother.

Burrowing shrimp pulled from the sand.
A stop on the way back to the shore brought the problem into clear focus. The infestation of small shrimp was obvious from the absence of oysters. With the first step, we could feel the mud give way under our boots. David Beugli of the Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association, pushed a water pump into the ground and quickly disgorged a dozen pale shrimp. The burrows dotted the ground.

Marilyn Sheldon of Norther Oyster Company said she’s seen entire swaths of oyster beds sink away into the unstable substructure caused by the shrimp.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “When it’s goes, it’s gone forever.”

Burrowing shrimp aren’t the only challenges. Predators, toxic algae blooms, shellfish disease, and unexplained die offs are all threats the industry. Growers experiment with growing techniques and disease resistant varieties to reduce losses.

Meeting on board in Willapa Bay.
Erik Hall, Taylor’s Willapa Bay Director of Farms, said the company is always looking for ways to boost the survival rate.

“The one thing I can tell you about shellfish -- they’re worth a lot more when they’re alive then when they’re dead,” Hall said.

Oyster processing 

A little farther down the road, Ekone Oyster Company gave everyone a look at how the oysters are processed after they come out of the bay.

First stop was the shucking line. Here, men and women deftly wield oyster knives so fast, all you see is a blur.

Bang! The hard clump slams down onto the table. Click. The tip of the knife strikes down against the lip of the shell. Swip, swip. The blade slips under the shell with a back-and-forth swipe across the abductor muscle and the slippery animal flops out. Each shucker races to fill a large stainless steel basket, then carries it over to the wash rack for a rinse. Repeat.

Willapa Bay grows oysters to be served raw on the half shell, shucked to be sold by the pint, canned and smoked, and sold in bulk for processing into popular Asian ingredients such as oyster sauce. The industry is the life blood for the rural communities along the coast.
Bill Dewey talks oysters. 

The economic impact of aquaculture 

Rob Johnson, Ekone’s half-shell room manager, spent most of his professional life working in the lumber industry. When the mill he managed closed a couple years ago, his options were limited. He said he is grateful for the opportunity he found at the processing plant.

“It’s been a real blessing for me,” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for this shellfish farming opportunity I would have had to leave the community. But I didn’t want to leave. This is my home.”

Johnson was excited about how the company helps the whole economy.

“We’re growing,” he said with a smile. “I just hired five people in the last six weeks. Those are full-time jobs.”

The Willapa Bay tour was a great way to educate people on this important industry and the challenges it faces. Thanks to Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association for organizing the event.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and comments.