Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hops season right around the corner, planning ahead for workforce shortage with higher wages

Amber Betts WSDA Communications

Hops flower on the vine.
When we hired cherry inspectors earlier this year, we saw difficulty in filling all the positions, so we decided to increase the already competitive wage.

With hop season right around the corner, we are preparing for similar results with a limited workforce nationwide to do the work. So we’re doing it again. Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is preemptively increasing the pay for our hop samplers and graders to more than $17 an hour. That’s nearly $2 more an hour than it has been in the past.

Every year we provide a service to the hop industry in Washington state; “samplers” take a portion of the crop back to the lab in Yakima where our “graders” get to work. After all is said and done, farmers are left with a seed, leaf, and stem certificate that allows them to export their product worldwide.

We are gearing up to hire more than 40 people to work about six weeks from August to October. This is a busy job, full time, seven days a week, with overtime. We are looking for graders to work in the lab and samplers to go to the farms and warehouses to collect samples of the local hops.

As an “inspector” you’ll be part of the Plant Protection Division of WSDA. The program grades hops for seed, leaf and stem content, and analyzes hops for brewing value. The Yakima Valley produces over 70% of the U.S. hops and 25% of the world’s hops. But first, we need the samples of the hops to analyze. That’s where you come in.

Day in the life of a sampler

As a sampler, you’ll travel to farms and warehouses, maneuver bales of hops, collect the samples and label them correctly. You’ll enter the information into WDSA software that we will train you how to use. You’ll bring the samples back to the lab, where our graders will get to work.

This is the perfect chance to be part of the worldwide industry. If sampling isn’t your speed, lab work might be for you.

Graders get the job done

Once the samples arrive, graders begin their work. You’ll sort the samples, remove debris, record their weight, sift material into a divider, and split samples between seeds and leaves/stems. The seed samples will be taken to the oven, then the cones will be crushed into a powder leaving behind remnants of the stems and seed. This will further be sorted, leaving just the seed behind. Seed is something no farmer wants to see. It lowers the grade of the hop.

Hops core samples
taken for grading.
The leaf and stem will be sorted using a machine with stacked pans. This consists of using a shaker with stacked pans of varying size of screens for the sample to fall through. Once the sample is through the pans, the grader analyzes it at a grading table. Only the leaf and stem will remain. This takes good eyesight and hand dexterity. Hops are graded on how much of their product contains leaves and stems. The more leaves and stems, the lower the grade.

To apply, visit our employment page.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

State veterinarian retires, sort of

Amber Betts WSDA Communications

As Dr. Brian Joseph prepares to hang up his agency stethoscope for the final time this week, we’d like to take a moment to recognize the incredible career he’s had as the state veterinarian at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). State vet is just one notch in the belt of his career for this retired Army Reserve Veterinarian and humanitarian.

Dr. Joseph visited Belize in 2015, working
with public health officers to administer
rabies immunizations to dogs, and vaccinations
and deworming for pigs, goats, cattle, and horses.
With a 23-page resume of publications, presentations, veterinarian jobs, and humanitarian trips, Dr. Joseph leaves WSDA in a semi-retirement state. Retirement includes continued consulting for aquaria and dolphin facilities across the country. He also plans to continue volunteering for LifeStock International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the livelihoods of livestock holders in developing countries. LifeStock, the Army, and consulting work have taken him all over the world, including a recent trip to Kurdistan, instructing veterinarians and laboratory supervisors in highly contagious diseases in animals and how to properly report those diseases.

Collaborative relationships

When COVID-19 hit Washington state, Dr. Joseph was on a mission to help educate families on what role their family pets had to play in the spread of the virus. There was the potential for a lot of hysteria around companion animals.  Could they become infected? Could they infect each other? Could they infect people? 

“There was so much we didn’t know,” Dr. Joseph said.

Dr. Joseph collaborated with colleagues across the state to develop guidance for testing and care of Washington pets in shelters and COVID-19 positive households. In doing so, they blazed the trail for other states.

Dr. Joseph performing a physical
examination on a camel and training
another Army veterinarian how to
work with camels.

Dr. Minden Buswell immediately arranged a conference call with Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, head of the University of Washington One Health Program; Hanna Oltean, zoonotic disease epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health; Dr. Tim Baszler and Dr. Kevin Snekvik of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory; Dr. Sandra Newbury of the University of Wisconsin Shelter Animal Medicine Program; Dr. Leonard Eldridge, USDA APHIS Area Veterinarian in Charge; Dr. Joseph and regional veterinarians. 

“We included Center for Disease Control experts and came up with the best guidance that we could based upon the information we had. It was sound, and the present guidance from USDA and CDC largely mirrors the path we set early on,” he said.

Dedicated WSDA staff and the strong collaborative relationships with partner agencies and organizations is what he’ll miss the most.

“There are several things I will miss the most,” he said. “I will miss the dedicated staff that we have at WSDA.  I will deeply miss the strong collaborative relationships we have with the University of Washington One Health program, the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Washington States’ School of Veterinary medicine, the Washington Department of Health, our USDA APHIS colleagues, our WSVMA colleagues; the Beef Commission; all our livestock organizations; and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  These strong relationships make us more productive and facilitate animal health management and a strong agricultural economy in Washington.

“We are truly fortunate, but maintaining these relationships takes the investment of time and shared responsibility,” he added.

The path that led us here

Dr. Joseph delivering school supplies to children
in Obo, Central African Republic in 2016. 
Of the four career choices Dr. Joseph was considering, veterinary work was last on the list.

There was a lot to consider for his future and becoming a veterinarian was the least desirable, in the end however, he chose it, and I think we’re all glad he did.

“I chose this path because I believed it would be the most influence over improving the lives of animals,” he said.

With the countless veterinarians he’s trained, humanitarian trips he’s taken, animals he’s treated, and the many times he’s loaned his expertise, we can definitively say he’s done just that. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

German snails and lots of steam: WSDA embraces innovation to respond to another invasive threat

Karla Salp

vineyard snail
Vineyard snail
The recent interception of giant African snails at a Texas airport alerted many Americans to the fact that invasive snails can pose a serious threat to the country, but WSDA has long known about this threat and has actively worked to eradicate an invasive snail detection of our own. 

The invasive snail is Cernuella virgata but most people just call it the vineyard snail. The snails pose a threat to agriculture by directly attacking crops – such as wheat – and also clogging up machinery when farmers try to harvest their crops. 

And while most people think of steaming snails as more of a culinary endeavor, WSDA’s Pest Program is gearing up to use steam treatments to eradicate invasive snails at the Port of Tacoma late this summer. 

The vineyard snail was first detected at the Port of Tacoma in2005 and WSDA has been working to eradicate the population since 2007. The project has been a collaboration between WSDA, the Port of Tacoma, and Washington State University (WSU). The initial infested area was approximately 300 acres but now has been reduced to less than one acre on a single property.  The last acre has proven to be a real challenge, as it is classified as a wetland and traditional treatment methods are not available.  The hope now is to complete the eradication using experimental steam treatments – a potential alternative to pesticide-containing snail baits.  

A snail-steaming solution

two people lifting a plastic sheet with steam coming out
Snail steam trial at Port of Tacoma
Steam-killing snails in the ground is easier said than done. WSDA and WSU have been fine-tuning the method over the past two years. To kill the snails at infested sites, steam hoses are snaked over an area and covered with plastic to hold in the heat and moisture. Steam is pumped through the pipes for several hours to bring the temperature of the first six inches of the soil up to at least 56 degrees Celsius for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Part of the challenge, though, is identifying which snails are native and which are invasive. Vineyard snail looks very similar to some native snails, and it takes a trained eye to spot the difference.  Even then, it can be tricky. To help positively identify the invasive snails, WSDA has turned to DNA to provide greater certainty. 

DNA – stopping invasive species in their tracks 

WSDA’s molecular diagnostics laboratory in Olympia has been a game-changer in the Pest Program’s ability to respond to pest issues. Rather than having to wait days or weeks to get DNA analysis back from a federal lab, WSDA’s molecular diagnostics lab is running its own tests and getting results back within hours. These quick results enable the program to make mid-season adjustments when responding to invasive pest threats, rather than having to wait until the following year. 

When responding to invasive pests – a quick response can mean the difference between eradicating an invasive threat quickly -- or having to learn how to manage it forever. 

The lab ran into a problem when starting to look into DNA analysis of snails: very little snail DNA exists in national DNA databases. Without enough samples to use for comparisons, the lab cannot provide meaningful DNA results. 

Sequencing snails

Snail segments from Germany
To beef up the snail DNA repository and help provide accurate snail DNA analysis in Washington and elsewhere, WSDA’s molecular lab is teaming up with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Malacologist and a Smithsonian research scientist to conduct a molecular study of Cernuella species from around the world. 

USDA APHIS is obtaining and expertly identifying the snails, WSDA is processing and sequencing the DNA, and the Smithsonian is analyzing the DNA sequences. 

This month the first (dead) snails arrived from Germany, and the WSDA molecular lab began the process of extracting and sequencing the DNA. When complete, the results will do more than just help WSDA quickly identify vineyard snail. It will provide agricultural authorities around the country needed DNA information to positively identify various Cernuella species and protect our nation’s natural resources from invasive pests. 

Electropherogram from German snail DNA
Helping protect the rest of the country from invasive species is not something new for WSDA. Washington’s location with its many ports as well as people moving into the region mean that the agency is constantly on the lookout for new pests – whether they be giant hornets, invasive moths, or even snails. Learn more about the Pest Program’s work on our website.  

Monday, July 19, 2021

It’s dry. Really, really dry.

Amber Betts, WSDA Communications

Washington's wheat crop is
expected to show reduction in yield
due to the drought this year. 
It all comes down to one fact: If it grows, it needs water. Water that our agriculture producers in Washington state simply do not have enough of this year.

In what looked like a promising year for snowpack, agriculture producers around Washington were hopeful this year would see adequate water supply resulting in healthy crop yields and a productive year. The spring season came and left with little to no rain, causing great concern especially for dryland producers.

Dryland producers are primarily in Eastern Washington state and are without irrigation to rely on to water their crops or feed their animals.

Our agricultural growers are telling WSDA that they are already experiencing yield reduction and other effects that could reduce revenues. Livestock producers also report having to buy feed sooner than expected, likely at a higher price tag, because grazing lands are drying up.

At WSDA, we work to ensure our federal and state partners hear the concerns of our ag producers. And the message was heard loud and clear.

In late June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a federal drought declaration for 14 primary and 10 contiguous counties in Washington. USDA’s drought monitor tool continued to monitor Washington state’s water supply and on July 6 triggered seven more primary and four more contiguous counties as disaster areas due to drought.

Then, last week, on July 14, Washington’s Department of Ecology declared a drought emergency for most of the state.

Declaring a drought means more than just acknowledging the hardship our producers are facing, it opens up opportunities for our agriculture partners to access programs, services, and funding to help alleviate the hardship caused by drought.

Ecology is able to expedite emergency drought permits, process temporary transfers of water rights, hold public education workshops and provide funding assistance for public entities, including irrigation districts. Ecology is currently in the process of identifying needs and potential funding.

The federal declaration means dryland farmers in the counties the disaster was declared allows for emergency loans that can be used to help the producer recover from this drought. Loans can be used for replacing equipment or livestock, or to reorganize the farming operation, or to refinance other debts. USDA’s Farm Service Agency also manages relief programs including the livestock forage program, where producers are eligible for payments to assist in buying feed for their livestock and the tree assistance program, as well as crop insurance.

If you think you may qualify for federal assistance, visit USDA’s disaster assistance discovery tool. You can also visit WSDA’s drought information webpage for more on available resources.