Monday, December 14, 2020

Catching hope: Possible ally in fight against harmful fruit fly discovered in Asian giant hornet trap

Karla Salp

Leptopilina japonica
Photo credit: 
Warren H. L. Wong,
University of British Columbia, Canada

The benefits of the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Asian giant hornet program just keep coming. Not only did they find and eradicate the first Asian giant hornet nest this fall, but now entomologists have found a very promising sign in the hornet traps: the first-known detection of Leptopilina japonica in the United States.

Leptopilina japonica is a tiny parasitic wasp that kills spotted wing drosophila (SWD,) which has been causing extensive damage to fruit crops in Washington for both farmers and gardeners. The wasp larvae consume the inside of the SWD larvae, eventually killing the fly. This exciting find, made in collaboration with the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (ARS-USDA) in Washington, DC, may lead to the development of biological control programs to potentially help manage SWD.

The wasp was found in WSDA’s Asian giant hornet traps. Traps sometimes catch bugs that are not the target pest. In this case, the orange juice and cooking rice wine bait was evidently very attractive to SWD, capturing countless numbers of the detested pests in addition to the wasp that entomologists discovered.

Leptopilina japonica laying eggs
in SWD larvae in a raspberry
Photo credit: 
Warren H. L. Wong, 
University of British Columbia, Canada

Finding better ways to manage spotted wind drosophila has been a challenge for farmers and researchers alike. First found in California in 2008, it was discovered in Washington in 2009. Unlike most fruit flies that lay their eggs in overripe or damaged fruit, SWD will lay eggs very early in the ripening process and in undamaged fruit. This means that ripe fruit could have SWD larvae in it. So far the only successful defense against SWD has been to apply pesticides when they are detected; a biological control would be a welcome management tool.

While a first for the U.S., the wasp was also recently discovered in British Columbia in the fall of 2019. Further research indicated that it may have been in Canada as early as 2016.

WSDA’s entomology lab still has thousands of Asian giant hornet trap contents to examine, but once their work and analysis is complete, the data on what was found in the traps will be made publicly available.

Leptopilina japonica
Photo credit: 
Warren H. L. Wong, 
University of British Columbia, Canada

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

WSDA joins UW and WSU to learn more about COVID-19 impacts to agriculture

Hector Castro

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken a toll in lives, but has also led to significant economic hardship for many in our state, including those working in agriculture. Now, WSDA has joined with the University of Washington and Washington State University in an effort to survey Washington’s farms and ranches to learn how they have been weathering this deadly pandemic.

The hope is to learn more about the economic resiliency of our state’s farm operations and how they adapt, or recover, from an unforeseen event like the COVID-19 pandemic. Some farm businesses have seen little disruption to their operations, but others have suffered greatly during these past several months.

The Washington Farm COVID-19 End-of-Season Survey is open until Dec. 31 and is available in both English and Spanish. Any farm or ranch is invited to take part in the survey and all participants will remain anonymous.

There are about 80 questions in the survey, covering the type of agriculture operation as well as questions about finances before the pandemic and during this past year, including questions about how the two years compare to one another.  

Raspberry harvesting.

The survey questions are an effort to understand:

  • What the major impacts were.
  • Whether farms or ranches were able to adapt or transform their farm practices, and how.
  • Which adaptations were the most successful.
  • Why specific decisions were made.
  • What barriers were encountered.
  • What are the hopes and concerns of farmers and ranchers for the coming year.

The information WSDA, UW and WSU learn through the survey will help provide information for academic research and to government decision makers as they strive to develop policies to help businesses, including those in agriculture, recover from this crisis. 

The survey results will also be available to the public, though participants will remain anonymous. Visit the UW’s Center for Public Health Nutrition at to learn more about the survey project.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Washington receives $4.65 million in Specialty Crop Block Grant funds

Leisa Schumaker 
WSDA SCBG Program Manager 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has received $4.65 million in federal Specialty Crop Block Grant funds to support projects that increase the competitiveness and demand of the state’s specialty crops.  

Specialty Crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture. WSDA will fund 21 projects with the money, with awards ranging from $61,000 to $250,000 going to non-profits, government organizations, universities and community colleges, and agricultural commissions.

WSDA selected projects through a competitive two-phase process with Phase I focusing on the concept behind the project and Phase II expanding on the project with much more detail.  

These projects focus on areas of plant health and pest management, small farm operations, domestic and international marketing, food safety, training and education, as well as new innovative technologies.

You can review the 2020 Specialty Crop Block Grant projects on our website. For more information, visit and click on the Specialty Crop Block Grants link. 

For those interested in applying for 2021 SCBG funds, review the 27-page Request for Proposal document for details on the application process and deadlines.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A nest by the numbers - what WSDA found inside the Asian giant hornet nest

Karla Salp

A new Asian giant hornet ready to emerge
More than 500 Asian giant hornet specimens in various stages of development were collected when entomologists found the first Asian giant hornet nest in the United States.

But finding the nest was just the first step in the eradication. After the discovery of the nest site, WSDA entomologists had to safely remove hornets living in the nest, remove the tree, and finally split the tree open to reveal the nest inside.

After opening the tree containing the Asian giant hornet nest on Oct. 29, WSDA entomologists still had a lot of work to do to collect data about what the nest contained. Much like the election, the tallying took quite a bit of time and, to some extent, continues. 

Pupae in various stages of
development taken from the nest
The nest was just over 8 feet high in the tree and, once opened, was found to be about 14 inches long and 8 to 9 inches wide. Here are the preliminary results of what our entomologists found in the nest.

  • 6 combs – There were six layers of comb in the nest. Combs are the structures that hold the hornet larvae as they develop. Part of the interior of the tree had been chewed away to accommodate the combs.
  • 776* cells – The combs are made up of cells and each individual cell can hold a developing Asian giant hornet. *This number is approximate as there was some damage to the combs.
  • 6 unhatched eggs These eggs were all located in the last and smallest of the combs.
  • 190 total larvae - The larvae are whitish “grubs” in uncapped cells. Many had fallen out of the combs into the tree cavity during the nest removal.
  • 108 capped cells with pupae – Pupae are the next stage after larvae. Based on the size of the cells, most of the pupae found are believed to be pupae of new virgin queens.
  • 112 workers – This total includes 85 workers that were vacuumed out of the nest on Oct. 24. All of the workers survived being vacuumed out of the nest.
  • 9 drones – Drones are male hornets and they generally emerge from the nest before the new queens emerge.
  • 76 queens – Most likely all but one queen would be new virgin queens. New queens emerge from the nest, mate, and then leave to find a place to overwinter and start a new colony the next year.

Despite multiple applications of carbon dioxide, removal of the workers, and storage in a cold facility, most of the specimens were still alive when the nest was opened.

Where we go from here

Nest reassembled in the tree

WSDA will continue trapping through at least Thanksgiving and possibly beyond, but will likely only track worker hornets. Our entomologists will not, for example, track new queens if any are captured as they are unlikely to return to a nest, but instead will attempt to locate a mate. Even if no other hornets were to be found, WSDA will continue to trap for at least three more years to demonstrate the area is free from Asian giant hornets.

WSDA’s Pest Program still hopes to eradicate Asian giant hornets from the Pacific Northwest in cooperation with our neighbors to the north in Canada. The effort will take require international cooperation, research for better detection tools, and the continued work of vigilant observers from the public to prevent Asian giant hornets from gaining a permanent foothold here.

If you may have seen an Asian giant hornet in Washington State, report it with a photo if you can get one at:

If you believe you have seen an Asian giant hornet but live in another area, please report it to your state or province’s invasive species managers.

Additional photos of the nest examination can be found on our Box account. When using the photos, please credit the Washington State Department of Agriculture. You can also watch a recording of the press conference on YouTube. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Schools and farmers take part in unique 2020 Taste Washington Day

Chris Iberle
WSDA Farm to School Lead

Yakima School District school nutrition staff did a Washington
Apple Crunch during meal distribution.
The 10th annual Taste Washington Day took place on Oct. 7 during an unprecedented, challenging time. Even during school closures and distance learning, farm to school connections between farmers, schools, and students allow communities to respond with resilience.

Schools showed inspiring creativity and flexibility to continue providing locally sourced meals, virtual Washington Apple Crunches, and other food and agriculture education during COVID-19.

At least 43 school districts statewide participated and embraced this year’s theme of  “What’s in the Bag from Washington." Heroic efforts of school nutrition staff and farmers helped make sure thousands of students ate seasonal, Washington-grown lunches and learned more about local food and farms. 

More than 80 Washington farmers participated, providing everything from apples to beef and kohlrabi to milk for school lunches across the state. Some even offered virtual farm tours and education.

Pullman Public Schools featured local apples,
lentil harvest chili, and educational handouts.
 Gov. Jay Inslee’s Taste Washington Day Proclamation recognized school nutrition staff, farmers, and farmworkers for their inspiring efforts, and the diversity they and their products represent. Farm to school increases opportunities for more producers to supply fresh, local foods to schools and students, particularly while so many of farmers’ other markets are closed.

In addition, First Lady Trudi Inslee recorded a video message for Taste Washington Day, expressing appreciation for the essential work of school nutrition staff and local farmers to provide nutritious food to students statewide. 

It was a great way to celebrate and kick off National Farm to School Month.

Here are a few highlights from the many ways Washington school districts celebrated Taste Washington Day 2020.

  • Chief Leschi Schools bagged up local pluots and pears.
  • Chimacum School District served local carrots, tomatoes, flour, eggs, pie pumpkins from Finnriver Farm, Red Dog Farm, SpringRain Farm, and Sunfield Farm.
  • Edmonds School District did a virtual field trip to meet a local dairy farmer.
  • Everett School District shared What’s in the Bag from Washington: cucumbers, apples, milk, yogurt, kohlrabi, and Asian pears.
  • Grandview High School students produced a fun Washington Apple Crunch video to celebrate.
  • Oakesdale FFA gave presentations on growing fruits and vegetables to elementary students.
  • Pullman Public Schools featured local lentil harvest chili and apples from Palouse Brand, Bishops’ Orchard and Whitestone Mountain Orchards, and sent students home with educational fliers about Washington lentils and apples.
  • Riverview School District featured local items and student-grown tomatoes from Cedarcrest FFA, pickling recipes for radishes from Carnation Farms, and Okanogan grown apples.
  • Seattle Public Schools featured a smoked salmon chowder bowl with locally grown fennel and dill, cucumbers for a side salad, Washington grown milk and yogurt with ingredients from Lummi Island Wild, Crow’s Farm, Ralph’s Greenhouse (sourced through Puget Sound Food Hub) and Hayton Farms, Darigold and Yami Yogurt.

Everett Public School lunches and
snacks included Washington-grown
cucumbers, apples, milk, yogurt, kohlrabi,
and Asian pears in bagged meals,
with stickers from the Washington State
Dairy Council.
Go to Taste Washington Day 2020 activities to see more highlights of the day from schools around the state, as well as find links to social media, photos, videos and more!

See the list of participating school districts and farmers and follow the school links to see their Taste Washington Day menus and more on their programs. 

Taste Washington Day was organized by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington School Nutrition Association, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Child Nutrition Services, and many regional Farm to School partner organizations.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Stirring up a hornet's nest - safely

Karla Salp

Man looking at log wrapped in cellophane
For WSDA’s Pest Program, persistence has paid off.

Months of researching, planning, and trapping finally led to the discovery of the first Asian giant hornet nest in the United States. The nest was found inside a tree cavity.

After vacuuming 85 hornets from the nest last Saturday, the entomologists in our Pest Program completed the second phase of the project by removing the portion of the tree with the nest on Oct. 28. When they cut into the tree to get to the nest, two queens emerged.

Opening the tree and nest

Early in the morning of Oct. 29, WSDA Pest Program staff gathered at the Washington State University Puyallup Research and Extension Center where the cellophane-wrapped log holding the nest was placed in a walk-in cooler. The cool temperature was meant to help keep any live Asian giant hornets less mobile.

Grabbing Asian giant hornets out of the opened log

In preparation for splitting the log, the team partially removed the cellophane covering it and pumped more carbon dioxide into the tree. They used a circular saw to cut partway through one side of the tree to help the tree split evenly and create a spot to insert a metal wedge. Once the wedge was inserted, one of the team struck it with a sledgehammer, splitting the log open.

The team went into a flurry of action to collect Asian giant hornets that had remained in the log, many of them still alive, though none flying. Numerous adult specimens were collected and there appeared to be both new queens and workers in the nest.

Once the adults were collected, the team set about removing and analyzing the remainder of the nest. They found several larvae in the nest and many white-capped cells with developing adults.

They also found the radio tag they had lassoed to the Asian giant hornet that led the team to the nest. It appeared to have been chewed off.

Still time to trap hornets and find another nest in 2020

Over the next several days, WSDA entomologists will continue to analyze the nest and its contents. They will record data such as the number and caste of adult specimens, the number and size of the nest cells, overall nest size, weight and length of collected specimens, and more. All of the data will be made publicly available when it is complete and will be posted to our Asian giant hornet webpage at

Although the first nest has been found, this is not the end of the story. Work continues for WSDA’s Pest Program as well as some citizen scientist trappers in Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties who are keeping their traps up until at least Thanksgiving. There is still time to find another nest this year and residents are still asked to report Asian giant hornet sightings (with a photo if possible) online, via email at, or by calling 1-800-443-6684.

WSDA staff left to right: Rian Wojahn, Chris Looney,
Sven Spichiger, Jessica La Belle, Cassie Cichorz, Karla Salp

More resources:

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Take a delicious departure from the everyday during Seafood Month

Chris McGann

Here in Washington – a state brimming with local oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, salmon, halibut, and a dazzling array of other fish and shellfish – October is Seafood Month and a great time to support local growers, fishermen, producers and purveyors by taking a delicious departure from every-day home cooking.  

But a lot of people, especially those in charge of cooking, don’t think of seafood for regular meal planning. They may think it’s too expensive, smelly, or hard to cook, maybe all of those things.

That’s one of the reason’s Quan Hoang, Executive Mansion Chef for Governor Jay Inslee, joined WSDA, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Sea Grant to celebrate Seafood

Month and help undo some those misconceptions.

Chef Quan has heard these trepidations many times before. But fortunately, as chef to the governor, a man who ranks salmon among his favorite meals, he knows quite a few ways to help people overcome some of the most common misgivings.

Chef Quan wants people to know that a lot of Washington’s amazing seafood can be simple to prepare – and in some ways even easier to cook than other meats. 

“Seafood is often overlooked,” he said. “People are intimidated by seafood because they think the cost is high. They think it’s more of a gourmet type of food. But there are many types of seafood out there that are inexpensive and very easy to cook.” 

Anybody can cook seafood

As chef Quan demonstrated how to prepare a rockfish recipe in the governor’s mansion kitchen earlier this month, he mentioned that you don’t have to be a chef to cook seafood. 

“You just have to enjoy fish, and love to eat,” he said. “It’s a very simple dish and people will love it.”

Golden fish filets sizzled in a large sauté pan on the stove behind him as chef Quan spoke. A Lemon Beurre Blanc sauce bubbled on the back burner. Hoang discussed the virtues of local fish with a smile, occasionally rattling a whisk around the sauce pan and testing the filets’ doneness with the gentle press of his fingers.

“Rockfish is a very versatile fish to work with. It’s great for eating, it’s flakey and has a very mild flavor,” he said. “And it will take any flavor you may want to add. It’s one of those fish you can’t really screw up.”

Fishing, crabbing and shrimping are part of Washington’s heritage. The communities along Washington’s coastline play host to a commercial fleet that puts more than 20,000 people to work each year in living-wage jobs. Their labor drives more than $600 million in economic benefit to our state and delivers healthy, sustainable Washington seafood to kitchen tables across the state. 

Seafood month isn’t the first time chef Quan worked with WSDA to help people find ways to prepare food  they may not be familiar with. In the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he took on the challenge of coming up with good recipes based on emergency food boxes.

“I took it as a challenge to try to make meals out of the ingredients in these boxes at the food banks,” he said. “From garbanzo beans to canned salmon to pre-packaged stew, I made meals out of each. Hopefully, I gave people some ideas of what to do with their food boxes.” 

Chef Quan said he tested his recipes on a very picky eater, his wife. 

“If she liked it, then I knew it was good to go,” he said.

 He also worked with the Farm to Food Banks products, which offered more fresh vegetables that not everyone knows how to prepare. All these quick-and easy recipes are available online.

“We tried to do recipes that people could do with ingredients they have in their homes,” he said. “Nothing elaborate. It was a lot of fun, and I’m trying to come up with a lot more to make it more exciting to “eat out of a box.””

More information about when and where to buy locally sourced Washington seafood is available at WFWD. Consumers can also find Pacific Northwest seafood near them with the help of Local Catch, a network of supported fisheries and small-scale harvesters. 

Visit WSDA’s Food Assistance Program’s webpage for more recipes.

Here’s Chef Quan's rockfish recipe. (Reporter's note: It's delicious!)

Pan-seared Rockfish with Garlic Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce


2 Lemons (Juiced)

½ cup dry white wine (like a Sauvignon Blanc)

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

½ cup vegetable oil

6 (8oz) Rockfish fillets

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cold butter (cubed)


Prepare the lemon beurre blanc sauce by combining tablespoon of oil and garlic to a 1-quart saucepan cook for about 30 seconds. Add lemon juice, wine and cream to saucepan and simmer on medium heat until reduced by half the volume. Meanwhile, heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge fish fillets in flour and sauteed in the hot skillet until golden brown. Remove fish from heat and let rest. When the sauce has reduced, slowly whisk in the butter one cube at time, whisk until all the butter is well incorporated, add salt and pepper to taste. Place fish on platter, and drizzle sauce around and over the fish to serve.

Note from Chef Quan: I like to serve this with some wild rice and grilled vegetable.


Friday, October 16, 2020

2019 sees dip in revenues for Washington crops with onions joining the Top 10

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications

Washington’s agricultural production dipped slightly in 2019 to $9.49 billion, down 2 percent from the previous year, according to the annual value of Washington agriculture production report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA-NASS).

The Value of Washington’s 2019 Agricultural Production announcement was released this week. Among notable developments, a two percent increase in the value of onion production boosted it into the top ten, with a value of $181 million in 2019.

“Onions have always been right on the cusp of the Top 10, they’ve usually been in that 11th through 14th range for some time,” said Dennis Koong, deputy director of the USDA-NASS Northwest Regional Field Office. 

Apples remained Washington’s leading agriculture commodity, despite an 8 percent decrease in production value, followed by milk, which was up 13 percent from the previous year, and potatoes, which saw an increase of 19 percent. 

No data is yet available on how production has fared during 2020 and the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. All figures in this week’s report are for 2019. Also, USDA-NASS does not include data on marijuana production, as it is not a federally recognized agriculture crop. 

The 2019 Washington State Top Ten list of agriculture commodities 

  1. Apples -- $1.95 billion
  2. Milk -- $1.28 billion
  3. Potatoes -- $934 million
  4. Wheat, all -- $792.5 million
  5. Cattle and Calves -- $698.7 million
  6. Hops -- $475.6 million
  7. Hay, all -- $$468 million
  8. Cherries, sweet -- $393.5 million
  9. Grapes, all -- $308 million
  10. Onions, all -- $180.5 million

Several crops that did not make the top 10 list still had good years in 2019. These included blueberries, which reached a record high value of $153 million in 2019, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, barley, with a 39 percent increase in value of $29.9 million in 2019, and canola which, at $22.3 million, saw a fourth consecutive year of increasing values.

The USDA-NASS report also lists commodities that Washington leads the nation in growing, including hops, spearmint oil, apples, sweet cherries, pears and cultivated blueberries.

Visit for more agriculture statistics. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Food security during COVID-19, WSDA rises to the challenge

Chris McGann

Amy Dietrich of Frog Hollow Farm, Jeff Mathias of Blue
 Mountain Action Council (BMAC) and the National Guard
 show off their harvest from Frog Hollow’s ½ acre Food Bank
Garden.  BMAC contracts with Frog Hollow as part of
 WSDA and Harvest Against Hunger’s Farm to Food Pantry

When COVID-19 struck our state in February, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) rose to the challenge, responding in real-time to adapt safety guidelines, distribution networks, food procurement, processing, storage and financing models in a difficult, rapidly evolving environment. 

COVID-19 unleashed a devastating wave of illness that spread so fast and uncontrollably that within weeks of the initial infections, a statewide shutdown of many businesses and a mandatory stay-at-home order became the only option for slowing the contagion. 

The response saved lives but it also wiped out hundreds of thousands of Washington jobs, threatened our food supply chain, and put millions of Washingtonians at risk of going hungry. 

A multi-pronged response

From the onset, WSDA stepped up to activate and execute a multi-pronged response to coordinate, administer and carry out a massive hunger-relief effort to address a situation with an estimated 1.6 to 2.2 million people at risk of food insecurity. 

The agency secured more than $75 million of state and federal dollars for food assistance. It worked to help state philanthropic organizations raise more than $10 million for food assistance. It pioneered innovative new projects, such as working with AMI Airlines to redirect frozen airline meals to people in need at a time when air traffic had ground to a halt. 

The agency threw its all into the effort and that was just the start. WSDA partnered with private donors, other state and federal agencies, and tapped its own emergency funds to procure food, personal protective equipment and everything from paper boxes to additional cold storage facilities.  

WSDA has played a lead role in stabilizing the food supply chain, ensuring food access to a soaring number of food insecure Washingtonians, and providing technical assistance to farmers and producers who have adapted their business models to secure new markets. 

The effort required establishing new partnerships with major hunger-relief organizations to tap into existing distribution networks, facilities and expertise to make sure the food would get to those in need. WSDA continues to work with schools, food banks, farmers, processors and the National Guard in this endeavor. 

The agency developed new arrangements to redirect food originally intended for restaurants and even airlines to people in need, as well as establishing a strategic reserve of shelf-stable food for the need that remains.

For nearly six months, WSDA and its partners have been providing food assistance for people experiencing difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis. With the help of National Guard members, WSDA has distributed more than 1 million Washington Emergency Food boxes and helped food pantries across the state stock up on food for hungry families. 

This work is in addition to distributing roughly 1 million pounds of food to almost 200,000 Washingtonians each week through WSDA’s Food Assistance program. 

To ensure our ability to address a potential food security crisis, WSDA also secured more than $75 million of emergency funding through the state Office of Financial Management since the beginning of COVID-19.  

$10 million in April from the Disaster Relief Account.

$51 million in May from federal CARES Act stabilization funding. 

$15 in June -- $4 million CARES stabilization funding and $11 million from the Disaster Relief Account

This money was used for:

Capacity investments to help move higher volumes of food through the emergency food system, including more perishables like fresh produce and frozen meals.

Support of the state-funded Emergency Food Assistant Program, including food assistance to the tribes.  

Food Assistance Program pilot projects getting fresh food and frozen prepared meals to communities with high need and low food access.

Shelf-stable food procurement to offset unfulfilled bids for USDA commodities promised to the hunger relief network through the federal Families First legislation.

Ongoing emergency food box production and distribution.

Establishment of a strategic reserve of food to mitigate ongoing supply chain disruptions.

Procuring PPE, boxes, and disinfectant to support the hunger relief network with safe distribution models.

Redefining an agency

Beyond the raw numbers, the crisis has redefined WSDA’s entire organization. The agency has undertaken many new tasks and challenges to ensure ongoing food production and access to food in Washington. Some of WSDA’s actions and innovations include:

Multi-agency food security coordination – At Gov. Jay Inslee’s request, Director Sandison joined the Governor’s staff in leading the Food Security Coordination Team established in March. Working alongside other state agencies, the state Emergency Operations Center, FEMA and key non-government (NGOs) hunger-relief partners, WSDA quickly expanded its capacity to provide food assistance and helped plan, prepare and take action to enhance emergency food system operations and prevent a hunger crisis. 

WSDA Director Derek Sandison tours 
a Fife warehouse now housing a strategic 
reserve of shelf-stable emergency food. 
Washington Emergency Food Initiative – In partnership with the Governor’s office and NGO hunger relief organizations -- Northwest Harvest, Food Lifeline, and Second Harvest -- WSDA launched an initiative to procure and distribute shelf-stable emergency food to hunger relief partners statewide. 

Strategic Reserve of Emergency Food – High competition for products, long lead times, and nearly empty food bank warehouses in April compelled WSDA to procure shelf stable emergency food to ensure availability of food throughout the emergency food system. These foods will be distributed to our food assistance contractors and our Washington Emergency Food Initiative partners. 

Food Assistance Funding – Additional state funds have been issued to increase state and federal emergency food assistance funding. 

WSDA partnered with Harvest Against Hunger to help
 buy cold storage units for hunger relief programs. One
recipient, the Kalispel Tribe said the new freezers
"opened the doors to better dietary options".
Emergency Food Procurement –Orders for hunger relief organizations have quadrupled in volume and availability and food supply chain challenges persist. Through all of this, WSDA has been able to increase our orders and distribute food. In addition, WSDA has backfilled food orders in response to a large increase in the number of canceled USDA foods. 

Emergency Food System Capacity Investments – WSDA provided millions in federal CARES funding to hunger relief organizations so they could increase their storage capacity for cold, frozen and dry products. This became an increased priority due to the influx of fresh food boxes through the USDA Farm to Families Food Box Program and the increasing amount of fresh and frozen foods through TEFAP.

Emergency Food Pilots (Flexible Funding) – The CARES funding allowed WSDA to create pilot projects to fill emergency food gaps in a COVID-19 environment.  As shelf-stable foods became a challenge to obtain, the agency diversified strategies to fresh and frozen foods. The Charlie’s Produce pilot, for example, provided fresh food boxes to rural areas and tribes, as well as supported local farmers. The AMI “Airline” Farm to Freezer local pilot project allows for the purchase of local foods from farmers in Whatcom County to be turned into soups that can be frozen and distributed to food insecure families.

Farm to School – WSDA facilitated connections between school meal programs and local farms and distributors to support local supply chain functioning as school cafeterias closed but meal programs continued to provide food to children in need. 

The road ahead

The emergency food system may be forever changed as a result of COVID-19.  But at WSDA, we are committed to supporting hunger relief professionals and households that have been impacted by this crisis. 

While the months ahead remain uncertain, we are confident in the strategies we’ve implemented to shore up the operations, staffing, cold storage capacity and food supply of the hunger relief network to face whatever challenges may lie ahead.  Through our work with the Governor’s office on the Food Security Coordination team, we continue to address critical needs through collaboration and innovation.  

Our work will inform the Legislature, our congressional delegation, and our partners at USDA about the needs of Washingtonians and the opportunities that lie ahead to support all aspects of growing, processing and distributing food, protecting animal and plant health as well as our precious natural resources, helping our farmers and producers connect with markets for their products, assuring consumers that their food is safe, and making sure everyone in our state has access to good food.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Steam cleaning invasive snails

Scott Weybright
Washington State University

Where other solutions failed to eradicate invasive snails, steaming them appears to do the trick.

The steaming apparatus at work, next to
a plot that had just been steamed.
Photo courtesy of WSU. 

WSDA is working with Washington State University and the Port of Tacoma to eradicate an infestation of invasive Mediterranean vineyard snail using an innovative new method, steam. 

The invasive snails were first found on Port of Tacoma property in 2005. The total infestation covered about 300 acres of land held by the port, Pierce County, and private owners, according to Jenn Stebbings, a Port of Tacoma biologist. 

Traditional treatments, including debris removal, brush cutting, and molluscicides, or snail bait, were used on most of that area. But areas within a 10-acre plot at the port, where the invasive snail was originally found, have proved difficult to clear. 

“It’s a wetlands area, so you can’t use snail bait when surface water is present,” said WSDA Eradication Coordinator Rian Wojahn. “We’ve been looking for years for another way to get rid of them.”

“We’ve had a portable steam boiler system that we use to fight fungi,” said Gary Chastagner, a plant pathology and extension specialist at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center. “This is definitely an unplanned use of the technology, but the results have been very positive.” 

The idea came up at a meeting about other projects two years ago. WSU research associate Marianne Elliott overheard people talking about the continuing snail problem and suggested the steam system could help.

How to steam invasive snails 

The system consists of a trailer-mounted powerful boiler with a 300-gallon water tank, temperature sensors, hoses, and large plastic tarps. Swimming pool covers are used to retain heat. 

Steam from the boiled water is released at several spots under the tarp, warming the covered soil.

The steam kills snail eggs and adults in the covered area. The process takes about four hours per plot, and they can do two 750-square-foot plots per day. 

Treatment of infested areas will take a few weeks to complete, depending on weather. The colder the temperature, the longer it takes to heat the soil, Elliott said. Wet soil is more difficult to work with.

“This is a bigger area than we’re used to, it’s not a nursery with a small area infested with an invasive fungus problem,” Chastagner said. “But we did several test runs last year and it really worked well.”

The steam process isn’t targeted, so all plant life is killed in treated areas. As part of the permit for the steaming project, WSDA is seeding the affected area with native grasses and covering it with hay for protection.

Need for eradication

Examples of the Mediterranean vineyard snails that 
invaded Port of Tacoma land.  
Photo courtesy of WSU. 

Mediterranean vineyard snails love to feed on wheat. That’s a big problem in a state with a $700 million wheat industry. 

“It’s a nasty wheat pest,” Wojahn said. “It’s gotten to Australia, and they can’t harvest the wheat. They gum up the harvesters. It would be a huge problem if the snails get away from the port.”

Other uses for steam-powered pest control

This isn’t the first unplanned use for WSU’s steam system. Chastagner and his team have helped fight apple maggots near Twisp and treated yard waste in Okanogan County, among other projects.

“Steam is one of the oldest ways to fight agricultural pathogens,” Chastagner said. “It’s all about reaching the right temperature at soil depths where the targeted organism occurs. We think this will be very helpful for the port as a way to eliminate this invasive species.”

Visit our website for more information about WSDA's Pest program.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Taste Washington Day 2020 celebrates resilient farm to school connections

 Chris Iberle, Farm to School Lead

Common Threads Farm, Bellingham, school garden harvest.

The tenth annual Taste Washington Day may look a little different this year, but even with challenges associated with remote learning and COVID-19 precautions, it remains true to its mission of celebrating community, connecting students and farmers through school meals, and educating them about where their food comes from.

Across Washington State this year, schools, farms, children, families, school gardeners, agriculture educators, organizations and businesses have come together to support one another, showing strength and resilience in the face of unprecedented challenges.

However school districts adapt their activities for Taste Washington Day, scheduled for Oct. 7, this special day highlights how they provide local food to students in school meals, learn in their schools’ gardens, and educate students about food and agriculture. 

Thirty-six school districts are signed up to participate so far, and working with dozens of Washington farmers and producers to buy food items and ingredients for their meals. School districts and farmers can still sign up online to be a part of the event and share their plans with WSDA.

School nutrition staff have showed heroic, creative, and inspiring efforts to overhaul their school meal programs since the COVID-19 pandemic turned school operations upside down. 

School nutrition programs continue to be a critical food access point providing millions of meals for many children, families and communities statewide, especially during the pandemic. School meals have also provided an opportunity for students to stay connected with their school. 

“Nutrition staff in our districts love greeting the kids when they pick up their meals,” said Janis Campbell-Aikens, Child Nutrition director at Auburn School District and president of the Washington School Nutrition Association. “They have been one constant for the kids, from before COVID-19, and through the spring and summer.”

Coupeville School District boxed pasta lunches with sauce
that includes Washington-raised meat.

New, unique meal needs

The Taste Washington Day theme this year is “What’s in the Bag or Box from Washington?” encouraging schools to feature at least one Washington-grown product in sack lunches or meal boxes distributed to students. 

Local Washington-grown foods have been filling schools’ new, unique needs, as farmers support schools with products that fit grab-and-go meals, such as lunchbox-sized apples or pears, individually wrapped hardboiled eggs, dried cherries, and snacking veggies for sack lunches. 

Schools offering multi-day “grocery box” or recipe kits have added local yogurt, cheese, potatoes, onions, rhubarb, broccoli, and bread to distribution boxes. Districts incorporating scratch cooking into new distribution models, such as prepared meals to heat and eat at home, have featured Washington-grown beef, vegetables, and other cooked ingredients.

Washington Apple Crunch goes virtual!

The Washington Apple Crunch will again be part of Taste Washington Day, albeit virtual this year. Teachers, students and parents are encouraged to participate in the Washington Apple Crunch, and bite into a Washington-grown apple at noon on Oct. 7, and make a statewide crunch to celebrate our state’s agriculture. 

WSDA partners with the Washington School Nutrition Association to organize Taste Washington Day, with support from Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Child Nutrition. Local nonprofits, parents, volunteers, and community partners also work to support Taste Washington Day. 

Together with schools and local farmers, we celebrate Washington agriculture and promote the nutritious foods being served in our schools.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Natural Resources Assessment Section awarded water quality protection grant

Chris McGann


 Marion Drain, an irrigation ditch that releases into the
 Yakima River, is one of the waterways NRAS tests for
 water quality. An EPA grant will help expand the program. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a $200,000 grant for WSDA’s Natural Resources Assessment Section (NRAS), Wednesday. The award is part of a $2 million EPA distribution for 14 projects designed to help reduce and assess toxics affecting the Columbia River Basin watershed. 

The EPA grant funds an NRAS Pesticide Stewardship Partnership (PSP) pilot program that will collect water quality data and utilize local expertise to guide voluntary changes in pesticide use practices and ultimately improve water quality.

NRAS manager Gary Bahr said the grant helps further the important work already under way in the Columbia River Basin and around the state to monitor and improve water quality. 

The money also allows NRAS to expand its current work to the Palouse River and the Yakima River watershed where it will monitor surface water for agricultural pesticides, collect waste pesticides, and conduct targeted outreach in partnership with Conservation Districts.

“We will continue our work in the Yakima valley, where we have monitoring sites and have an active education and training program, Bahr said. “We’ll also begin new stream monitoring in the Palouse region in Eastern Washington, in partnership with the Palouse Conservation District.”

The watersheds were chosen because each is a unique agricultural production region in Washington and located upstream from critical habitat for species on the Endangered Species Act list. Sampling will look for more than 150 legacy and currently used pesticides, including DDT and its breakdown products. 

NRAS will partner with the WSDA Pesticide Management Division and Technical Services and Education Program (TSEP) for providing waste pesticide disposal collections, and pesticide education, applicator training, and sprayer calibration training. 

The Palouse Conservation District will collect the samples and work with NRAS to conduct outreach and promote pesticide applicator trainings and waste pesticide collection events.  The NRAS science group will lead the team to conduct coordinated work related to pesticide presence in the watershed and trends in pesticide usage, transport, and ways to protect water quality.

The grants are the first from the Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistance Program which was established by Congress in 2016 as an addition to the Clean Water Act to reduce toxics that have long affected the health of the waters throughout the basin. 

Information about the other projects funded by the EPA grants for the Columbia River Basin watershed is available at the agency’s website

More information about NRAS and water quality monitoring in Washington State on WSDA’s website


Friday, September 11, 2020

Partnering with farmers to provide food assistance

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications 

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and Northwest Harvest are working together to support family farms and families in need through a unique collaboration that provides 10,000 boxes weekly of fresh, local produce for food pantries.

Lon Inaba holds a box of assorted farm produce.
With funding from WSDA, Northwest Harvest has coordinated with Inaba Produce Farms in Wapato, where workers have been packing boxes with an assortment of fresh produce straight from the farm. Those boxes are then distributed through the non-profit's network of food pantries and other hunger relief outlets.

Since early June, Inaba Farms has packed nearly 100,000 boxes of produce.

"This is an opportunity to make sure we help those in need by getting them fresh produce, while at the same time helping to support Washington farms," WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. 

Recently, Director Sandison joined Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest, and Carmen Méndez, the organization's agriculture procurement representative, to visit with owner Lon Inaba for a first-hand look at the produce packing operation. Local media also attended to view the operation. 

Director Sandison interviewed by KDNA radio.
Before the pandemic, an average of 1 in 6 people (about 1.15 million people) statewide received food from a WSDA Food Assistance hunger relief organizations. In Yakima County, the average had been 1 in 4.

But since the pandemic, there has been a 50 percent increase in need statewide and a 71 percent increase in Yakima County, not including data from people being served from programs outside of WSDA, such as school lunch programs or other federal assistance efforts.

At the same time, major sectors of the state food supply network were disrupted as restaurants and foreign markets shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19. This led to farmers losing many of their traditional customers.

By connecting small farms with hunger relief organizations, initiatives like the arrangement with Inaba Produce helps create a market for farmers while providing fresh produce to families in need. It is in keeping with other WSDA efforts in recent years that focus on linking farms directly to food distribution networks, like our state Farm to Food Pantry initiative and federal Farm to Food Bank program. 

Lon Inaba was only too happy to show his visitors the operation, and the line where his workers have been packing thousands of boxes weekly. On the day of the tour, the shipment of boxed produce had already left, but a few missed their ride on the truck.
Serrano chilis.

Inaba pulled one from a pallet and hefted the cardboard box to display the assortment of fresh produce packed inside potatoes, green peppers, onions and melon - all meant to feed a family in need.

Inaba Produce, a third-generation family operation established in 1907, has always been committed to sustainability and its community. It has survived three separate displacements including the Japanese Internment during WWII. These experiences have made the Inaba family intensely aware of the hardships that can befall families, especially minority communities, during times of national crisis.

Inaba Farms, like many Washington farm operations, demonstrate that it cares about feeding those in need and is playing a significant role in helping to address food insecurity in our state.

Visit WSDA's food access webpage for more information on the agency's food assistance programs. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Boosting seafood exports to Vietnam virtually

Rebecca Weber and Elisa Daun 
International Marketing Program 

Washington seafood has faced some recent challenges, from trade issues with China to reduced demand from restaurant closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, opportunities for seafood have emerged, especially for Washington shellfish products and particularly in Vietnam. But travel restrictions have limited the ability for in-person meetings and activities like trade missions or visits to Washington from potential overseas customers.
Workers sorting mussels.

So WSDA’s International Marketing team looked for other opportunities where virtual tools could help exporters and importers connect.

We selected Vietnam as the first market to try out a virtual export-import visit. It has strong market potential and already ranks among the top 10 markets for Washington exporters. Our in-market representative was keen to work with us, and 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of resumed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

We decided to kick off this initiative by working with a small group of companies that had worked with us before, since new programs have a higher potential for implementation challenges.

WSDA’s International Marketing Program typically has contractors in several countries who help us and Washington state businesses build markets and navigate import requirements. We worked with our contractor in Vietnam to set up an online matchmaking meeting in late June to help Washington seafood exporters connect with Vietnamese seafood importers.

Trade mission goes online

For the event, we used a video conference platform that features “breakout rooms” allowing participants to hold side conversations. Four Washington export companies and six Vietnamese buyer companies participated, in addition to the WSDA International Marketing team—who spent quite a few hours and practice sessions preparing for launch!

We compiled buyer and supplier company profile information and provided to participants before the meeting, so companies could prepare by becoming familiar with each other.

The program kicked off at 5:30 p.m. in Washington state -- which is 7:30 a.m., the next day, in Vietnam. Everyone was a little outside their regular work hours, but all seemed happy to accommodate the time difference.

We began with all participants together in one session for introductions, a short market briefing, and an update on Vietnamese seafood trends. Then, we used the rest of our two and a half hours for one-on-one matchmaking meetings between participating buyer and supplier companies. Using the breakout room feature, importers and exporters were able to have direct conversations, with the WSDA team joining different sessions to assist as needed. In total, we facilitated 12 individual meetings.

The ability for companies to “meet” in “separate rooms” was well received and we learned a lot from this inaugural program that will improve similar programs in the future.

Future virtual visits

Although no transactions have yet resulted, several companies are corresponding with each other and conversations between them are continuing. The Vietnamese buyers are interested and eager to import Washington shellfish, such as live geoduck, oyster and king crab.

The Washington companies said they found the meetings valuable and worth their time, and all the businesses that participated expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet, even online.

We are now planning for future similar encounters with new product sectors, such as fresh produce, dairy, and specialty beverages, as well as value-added products. We plan to try this again ourselves, but also working through our trade association, the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association.

Visit if you own or work for a business interested in learning more about our export assistance programs or future virtual export-import events.