Thursday, February 20, 2020

WSDA Pesticide program wins national safety training award

Chris McGann

Pesticide training program manager Ofelio
Borges working with a class. 
WSDA's Technical Services and Education Program (TSEP) earned a national innovation award and accolades as “one of the most robust pesticide safety training programs in the nation” at The Pesticide Stewardship Alliance (TPSA) annual conference in San Antonio, Texas this week.

TPSA is a national consortium of federal, state and local governmental agencies; educational and research institutions; and other groups promoting pesticide stewardship through education, training, and outreach.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison said farmworker training and protection is a top priority for the agency.

"Here in Washington, we put an emphasis on training and education programs that ensure pesticides are used properly. In some respects, we set the standard for the rest of the country and that's something we're very proud of," Sandison said. 

Ofelio Borges, manager of WSDA’s pesticide training program, accepted the group’s Program Innovation Award on behalf of the team.

“We put a lot of effort into making sure farmworkers have the training they need to safely handle pesticides,” Borges said. “It’s great to have our hard work recognized.”

WSDA’s training program is taught in Spanish and English, with trainers making a concerted effort to reach workers who will be conducting the pesticide applications. Through workshops that include in-class and hands-on training, the goal is to make sure that workers understand the equipment, rules and requirements of safe pesticide applications. Courses are routinely filled to capacity and WSDA regularly partners with farm operations for training done in actual fields and orchards. 

Ples Spradley presents Program Innovation Award to WSDA's
 Ofelio Borges, Manuel Ornelas and Joe Hoffman. 

In its announcement, the alliance hailed Washington State as a national leader in training and innovation.

"The entire agriculture industry has tremendously benefited from the program by learning about pesticides, protection and exposures,” the group said in a statement. “TSEP regularly partners with industry by offering training for the agricultural community. Currently, Washington State has one of the most robust pesticide safety training programs in the nation.”

The Technical Service and Education Program offers the following types of courses:

Spanish Pre-license Private Applicator Classes
WPS Train-the-Trainer Spanish and English
WPS Train-the-Trainer Refresher
Spanish hands-on Pesticide Handler Training
Hands-on Respirator Fit Test -Train-the-Trainer
Spray Application Equipment Best Management Practices Workshop (and videos)

The TSEP also manages WSDA’s Waste Pesticide Identification and Disposal Program in cooperation with local agencies. The program collects unusable agricultural and commercial grade pesticides from residents, farmers, small businesses and public agencies free of charge.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Houdini fly poses new threat to native pollinators

Karla Salp

Light-colored Houdini fly grubs found in mason bee nests.
Photo credit: Crown Bees
As if the Asian giant hornet was not enough, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is warning that bees and other pollinators face another invasive threat – the Houdini fly.

Unlike the Asian giant hornet, which attacks and kills honeybees, the Houdini fly threatens native mason bees. Mason bees are small, solitary bees that are one of the first pollinators to emerge in the spring and are excellent pollinators in Washington’s cool climate. They are one of the few reliable early spring pollinators and are increasingly used in orchards to pollinate fruit trees in the spring.

The Houdini fly does not attack mason bees directly. The Houdini fly is a “kleptoparasite” -- it lays its eggs on the pollen meant to be the food for mason bee larvae. When the Houdini fly’s eggs hatch, the fly maggots consume the pollen, leaving the mason bee young to starve. Fully grown, the adult Houdini fly makes an amazing escape that gives it its name: it inflates its head to break through the mud cell walls.

Adult Houdini fly on mason bee nesting tube.
Photo credit: Flickr user gbohne
WSDA received reports from mason bee producers who had been detecting the Houdini fly maggots in their mason bee nests. WSDA first received reports in 2019, but only after mason beekeepers had been finding the maggots for repeated years. Because of this, WSDA believes the Houdini fly has established in Washington State and possibly in other states and can no longer be eradicated.

Managing mason bees to limit Houdini fly

While eradication is not an option, mason bee producers and enthusiasts can take several steps to limit the spread of this pest.

  • Harvest mason bee cocoons – Open mason bee nests before they emerge in the spring and destroy Houdini fly maggots.
  • Control adult mason bee emergence – If you cannot open nests, place the nesting materials in a fine mesh bag and close it tightly. As the bees emerge, release the mason bees daily and kill any Houdini flies.
  • Only use nesting materials that allow you to open, inspect, and harvest cocoons. Visual inspections can greatly reduce Houdini fly populations.
  • Before purchasing mason bees, ask the provider how they harvested the bees and whether they inspected the cocoons for Houdini fly. Only purchase pest-free mason bee cocoons.

While eradication is not possible, using these best management practices will not only help managed mason bees survive but will help wild mason bees as well.

Visit to learn more about the Houdini fly and how to look for it in your own mason bees.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Potato certification tests find success in Hawaii

Kathy Davis

Kay Oakley inspecting seed potato grow fields in Hawaii.
A business trip to Hawaii may sound luxurious. But maybe not so much if what you’re there to do is plant and inspect potato fields. 

Benita Matheson and Kay Oakley with WSDA’s Plant Services Program traveled to Oahu, Hawaii in November and January to help ensure Washington’s seed potato growers have disease-free planting stock. Their trips were completely funded by grower fees paid into the seed potato certification program. 

Seed potato growers can volunteer to have WSDA certify their seed stock. It requires that some of their seed potatoes be grown out during the winter months and inspected for viruses. 

In the past, these post-harvest grows and testing were done indoors in greenhouses. This is the first year that WSDA collaborated with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to try outdoor planting. 
The team from Washington, Canada and Hawaii planting
post-harvest seed potato trial field.

“Hawaii has the perfect climate for grow out,” said Matheson, plant inspection supervisor. “Almost all the major seed potato producing states and Canada have been taking their potatoes to be tested there. This puts Washington State’s growing protocol in line with other seed producing states in the nation.”

Seven participating Washington growers provided several pallets of seed potato samples, which were sent to Hawaii by ship, along with the Canadian potato samples. 

In late November, Matheson and Oakley met up with three Canadian growers and staff from E.S. Cropconsult at Twin Bridge Farms on the north shore of Oahu to plant two fields of samples. 

The farm and the Canada-based consulting firm are working with WSDA to understand the unique growing conditions of Hawaii.
Checking paperwork for seed potatoes
ready for shipping to Hawaii. 

“Their knowledge of how quickly the plants would grow helped us figure out when to plant and when to come back to do our visual inspections,” Matheson said. 

WSDA plant inspectors returned to Hawaii in January to inspect and test the seed potato field grow-outs. The outcomes have been positive. 

“Growers were happy with the results from this year’s post-harvest testing,” Matheson noted. “They received their test results earlier than previous years, which allows them to make adjustments to their inventory if needed.”
Benita Matheson with a jar of snakes
while visiting Hawaii ag department offices

The success confirms that WSDA will continue to use the Hawaiian field location for future post-harvest testing. 

“We hope to strengthen our seed potato program and provide healthy planting stock,” Matheson concluded.