Thursday, December 22, 2022

Santa’s reindeer cleared to fly into Washington State on Christmas Eve

Dr. Amber Itle
Washington State Veterinarian

 Photo courtesy of Ed and Sonya Benhardt 
Reindeer Express LLC, Rearden, Wash.

Not all elves make toys, some take care of Santa’s team of reindeer. Santa’s head herds-elf, Holly, oversees reindeer husbandry and care at the North Pole. The elves have all been preparing for the big day by taking special care to properly condition the team to ensure they can endure the long flight. The elves work hard to minimize stress by providing reindeer with optimal nutrition, fresh air, clean bedding, and lots of space. Hermie, the elf dental specialist inspects and “floats” all their teeth for optimal oral health. 

Holly is also in charge of making sure all the reindeer health requirements are met before flying around the world. While planning for Santa’s stops in the United States, she checked to see what each State requires. All the reindeer that cross state lines must meet Washington State import requirements, including a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) issued by an accredited veterinarian and a permit number to move between states for toy delivery. A CVI is a special animal health document that certifies that the animals listed “are not showing signs of infectious, contagious and/or communicable diseases” and have met all the required vaccinations and testing requirements. Santa’s reindeer tested negative for tuberculosis, brucellosis, and meningeal worms and have maintained “free” status in the CWD Herd Certification Program. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph all received clearance to fly into Washington state. 

Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle met with Holly to review his CVI paperwork and Santa’s biosecurity plans. Biosecurity plans are used to mitigate risk and limit exposure of Santa’s reindeer to disease by implementing key practices. This is extremely important since reindeer are susceptible to foot and mouth disease, an economically devastating and most contagious disease of cloven hooved animals. Biosecurity practices help to protect the reindeer for disease and allow for business continuity at the North Pole. If Santa’s reindeer get sick, they will not be able to deliver toys, which would have a huge economic and emotional impact on children and parents alike! Furthermore, Santa doesn’t want to be responsible for delivering an animal disease along with toys when he traverses the world. 

Santa’s Top 10 Biosecurity Plan Tips

  1. No visitors to the North Pole. 
  2. Keep a closed reindeer herd.
  3. Perform annual laboratory testing for diseases of concern.
  4. Establish a relationship with a veterinarian to oversee herd health and vaccinations.
  5. Bring your own reindeer grain, hay, and water for the journey.
  6. When traveling, never land on the ground; rooftops are cleaner.
  7. Avoid direct contact with wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.
  8. Clean & disinfect your sleigh and boots between rooftops, states, countries and when returning to the North Pole.
  9. Isolate all reindeer returning from toy delivery for 30 days.
  10. Designate elves to care for reindeer who have traveled. 

Make sure to track Santa and the reindeer’s flight path on December 24 using NORAD’s Santa Tracker.  Remember, if you are moving animals across state lines this holiday season to check to meet the interstate animal movement requirements.

Have a safe and happy holiday season from our end of the barn to yours. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Washington board game, the holidays, and Paul Harvey

How the true-to-farm-life game saved a family farm and continues to entertain and teach about the trials and rewards of agriculture around the world

Karla Salp

Original version of The Farming Game
Photo credit: Marylou Krautscheid
Mom picked up our family’s copy of The Farming Game at Cenex in Quincy. I always wanted to be “Roza Ray” or “Sunnyside Sidney” – two of the six Central Washington-themed names of the farmers in the game. The beat-up box and the odd missing piece testify to the fact that playing the board game was a popular pastime in our household. Only during the winter, of course, when the relentless list of farm and garden tasks took a seasonal reprieve.   

Apparently, we are gluttons for punishment.

Unlike Farmville, where there is almost no way to lose and the cows will wait until you come home, The Farming Game keeps it real. The cows get out. Hail ruins your crops. It’s 114 degrees in the shade.

While you can get rangeland, but there is a limit to how much cattle it can hold. High-priced fruit crops are high value but also high risk. Fate throws unexpected twists at the farm dream.

At least the way we played, it also never ended. Like real farmers, we played until we just got tired of it, or we went broke. Whichever came first.  

Hard times

The game itself really was invented on the seat of a tractor – just like it says on the box. After several years of initial success when they started farming in Central Washington, the Rohrbacher family was struggling to keep the farm afloat when their Goldendale ranch, which normally received over 20 inches of rain a year, received only five inches one year. The next, less than three.

With a third child on the way, the Rohrbacher family’s dream of returning to the land to farm was drying up in the summer of 1979. But that July, an idea sprung up in George Rohrbacher’s mind, cultivated by the smell of fresh-cut hay as he cut alfalfa in the pre-dawn hours.

George Rohrbacher, creator of The Farming Game
The idea – “the crazy idea” his wife Ann said – was to create a Monopoly-like board game about farming to save the family farm. Knowing that the most likely time for board game sales would be the holidays, the family set to work sourcing and assembling the game in time for the holiday sales rush. They literally bet the farm to do it – selling off half of their cows to pay for the board game materials and putting every penny they had into amassing 10,000 games.

Had George not been a natural marketer, that may have been the end of their farm, the game, and their life savings. He did everything from taking the game to farm shows and small-town shops to writing President Jimmy Carter and Paul Harvey, a radio show host popular in many rural communities at the time.

While the President returned a mimeographed “thanks for your letter” note, Paul Harvey did mention the game on his nationally-syndicated radio program. Although the Rohrbacher family never heard it themselves, there was a sudden uptick in sales and customers reporting they heard about the game on the radio.

The Paul Harvey push came just in time. By Christmas, they had a newborn, sold 7,000 games, and had earned enough to keep the farm afloat. Income from game sales continued to support the farm for years.

Beyond the farm

Current look of The Farming Game
The game was an immediate hit in farming communities where George peddled it. The farm families enjoyed the game but also appreciated how it accurately reflected the struggles of real farm life. Soon, teachers also saw the value in the game as a fun way to demonstrate to students how economics and real-world businesses work.

The Rohrbacher family was not the only farm hit by hard times. Increased prices and interest rates – much like today – made farming difficult to sustain, even for families who had been farming for generations. Tractors took to the streets in D.C. At one point, the game was given to every member of Congress to help them understand American farmers’ challenges at the time. George himself would even eventually become a Washington State Senator.

The game has also spread beyond America’s own borders. In 1994, the World Bank flew George to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union to oversee the translation of the game into Russian. There, the game was used to help farmers understand farm privatization after the end of socialism.

The Farming Game today

The Farming Game has been available for over forty years, now sporting an updated green box as opposed to the original tan. It was adapted for Windows and Macs but the electronic versions appear to no longer be available.

Interest in the game continues, having sold over 350,000 copies. Hard times seem to increase sales according to George – with increases in times of economic downturn and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rohrbacher family was even featured on The Last Archive podcast recently, discussing the game and the impact it has had. (Please note: The podcast contains a small amount of language or subjects that some listeners may find objectionable.)

The Farming Game brings up nostalgic memories for many a farm kid and anyone else lucky enough to have played the game, even though they knew nothing of the hard times that inspired the game, how it saved a family, or just how widespread the game’s impact has been. But now you know…the rest of the story. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Get the dirt on soil health; SoilCon 2023 registration opens

Danielle Gelardi
WSDA Soil Health Scientist 

soil probe taking soil sample in young potato plants
Taking soil sample with a soil probe
in young potato field
If soil microbiomes, water conservation, and plant health are your jam, you’ll want to register for SoilCon, a conference covering the latest research in soil health. SoilCon is next February during Washington Soil Health Week, though registration is already open for this virtual opportunity.  

The annual conference is organized by the Washington Soil Health Initiative, a joint effort of WSDA, Washington State University, and the Washington State Conservation Commission to improve soil health in our state. Soil health focuses on how well soils support plants, animals, and people. It also recognizes the living nature of soils and the importance of soil microorganisms. 

Soil sampling in grain stubble
SoilCon is a free, virtual event and will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 14, and Wednesday, Feb. 15. But don’t worry, it shouldn’t interrupt your Valentine’s Day plans; the conference is only held from 8 a.m. to noon each day from the comfort of your home, office, barn, or tractor seat. The theme this year is “Soil Health: Taking Principles to Practice.” Topics will be relevant to agriculture or natural resource professionals, producers, consultants, university faculty and students, gardeners, and anyone interested in soil health.   

Register on the SoilCon website and view the complete agenda, which is being updated as plans develop. Speakers include professors from WSU and universities around the country as well as graduate students and postdocs providing short, lightning talks. 

Join us at the conference to learn more about Washington state soil health and visit WSDA’s soil health page to learn more about our work.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Taste Washington Day 2022 – celebrating the farm-to-school connection

Sedro-Woolley School District served
yogurt parfaits with Grace Harbor Farms
vanilla yogurt, Viva Farms blueberries, and
homemade granola at breakfast.

Annette Slonim
Farm to School Lead
Local yogurt and berry parfaits, two-ton tomato sauce over whole grain penne pasta, and baked cinnamon-spiced apples with raisins and are just a few of the dishes featuring local foods and farms served in schools across the state in celebration of Taste Washington Day and National Farm to School Month.

More than 40 schools and childcare centers participated in Taste Washington Day earlier this month, sourcing Washington-grown foods from greater than 50 farmers and food producers. Throughout October, schools and childcare centers featured seasonal foods in school meals, highlighted partnerships with local growers, celebrated the harvest from school gardens and farms, and educated students on the richness of Washington agriculture and local food systems.

2022 Taste Washington Day highlights:

Quilcene school garden.

WDSA staff celebrated with a visit to Quilcene School District to spotlight their fantastic farm to school connections. School lunch, served by high school culinary program students, included a local beef stew featuring meat and vegetables from nearby Short’s Farm, Midori Farm, Graysmarsh Farm, and Dharma Ridge Farm. The youngest students experienced the harvest season by crunching apples in the school garden.

Dieringer School District served Baked Cinnamon-Spiced Apples with Raisins and proudly serves Washington-grown applies, carrots, and strawberries.

Bellingham Public Schools served a local Two-Ton Tomato Sauce over whole grain penne pasta. With support from the WSDA Farm to School Purchasing Grant, the school district purchased tomatoes from Common Threads Farm, The Crows Farm, Cedarville Farm, Cooperativa Tierra y Libertad, and Hedlin Family Farms, sourced through the Puget Sound Food Hub.

The Children’s Center at Burke Gilman Gardens celebrated Taste Washington Day with Spooky Squash Bake Kits, a great way to engage the whole family in celebrating and tasting local foods. 
Spooky Squash Bake Kits.

West Valley School District in Yakima celebrated Taste Washington Day with local roasted rosemary fingerling potatoes and Sweetie apples! Fingerling potatoes are a great option because they do not require any slicing or dicing, just roast and serve.

Charlotte Green and Roland Dagdagan
sorting fruit in
Charlotte Green, dietitian for Ellensburg School District, and Roland of Dagdagan Farm and Produce sorted melons and peaches for the salad bar on Taste Washington Day. Ellensburg School District visited the Ellensburg Farmers Market to meet local producers and establish new farm-to-school connections. Schools can be a great customer for local farmers, especially at the end of the season when farms may have surplus produce.

Sedro-Woolley School District offered organic Honeycrisp apples from Sauk Farm and served yogurt parfaits with Grace Harbor Farms vanilla yogurt, Viva Farms blueberries, and homemade granola at breakfast.

Melissa Holmes from Pe Ell School District cannot say enough about her staff. 
Pe Ell’s Administration staff served the local fruit. Kyle
MacDonald/Superintendent, Brandon Pontius/K-8 Principal
and Keith Shepherd/HS Dean of Students/AD.
Melissa and her team serve Washington-grown foods on a daily basis whenever possible. Students enjoy all the fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods from many Pacific Northwest local area farms, Eastern Washington farms, and the Olympic Mountain Ice Cream and Sorbet made in Shelton, WA. This year’s Taste Washington Day lunch included a cheeseburger with farm fresh tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and local fruit.  
Carrots at WallaWalla daycare.

Children at the Little Angels Biodome Daycare and Pre-school in Walla Walla harvest and wash carrots from the garden. Little Angels Biodome also partners with Hayshaker Farm to source local foods for the center’s meals.

The Olympia School District’s Child Nutrition Services Department featured foods from area farms and ranches, including their very own Olympia High School Freedom Farm.

The Olympia High School Freedom Farmers is an alternative, experiential block-class program for 
Olympia High School freedom farmer
students were busy harvesting and preparing
crops in preparation for the big day.
Olympia High School students. The farm offers a hands-on, outdoor and community-based educational model is for students who thrive when they can apply academic learning to relevant community and environmental issues. Students were busy harvesting and preparing crops in preparation for the big day (pictured here).

Taste Washington Day meals featured items ranging from chili made with grass fed beef, muffin bread made from zucchini, salad bar items including carrots, celery, and cantaloupe, and crisps made from blackberries and blueberries.

Washington-grown foods on the
lunch trays at Pe Ell School
District is a regular occurrence.
The Olympia Child Nutrition Services Department is using funds from their WSDA Farm to School Purchasing Grant to buy foods produced by local farms, ranches, school gardens, and food producers to strengthen local agriculture, improve student health, and promote regional food systems awareness.

Thank you to all the schools, farms, and community partners who celebrated Taste Washington Day and National Farm to School Month this year! Farm to school connections continue throughout the year in Washington, follow or tag #wafarmtoschool on your preferred social media platform to find out or share what’s happening.

Want to connect with others involved in farm to school or early learning? Join the Washington State Farm to School Network! Learn more and sign up at
Chief Leschi Schools celebrates the Washington
Apple Crunch with apples from Sterino Farms.

For more information about WSDA’s Farm to School Program, visit or contact Annette Slonim, Farm to School Lead, at 206-714-2757 (calls/texts welcome) or

More photos from Taste Washington Day 2022

Pe Ell School District staff serve up locally grown food. Pictured: Kendra Arrington / Assistant Cook, Ryan Holmes / Dishwasher, Thomas Justice / Life Skills Student, Taylor Toepelt / Life Skills Student and two lifetime assistants, Tory Duncan / Librarian and Angela Holmes / Substitute Cook / Custodian.

Students in Yakima enjoyed roasted rosemary fingerling potatoes
and Sweetie apples.

Organic Honeycrisp apples from Sauk Farm.

Bellingham Public Schools served a local Two-Ton Tomato Sauce over whole grain penne pasta. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

WSDA awards $8 million to improve fairgrounds across the state

Brand new animal pens awaiting
assembly at the Evergreen State Fair.
Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

Prize-winning hog, best-in-show apple pie, blue-ribbon stuffed chicken, and the area’s largest squash are some of the awards seen at your local fair. You know the one? Yes, you do.

The moment you think of the local fair you begin to smell the scones, elephant ears, the animal barns, and the unique atmosphere of fun, comradery, and family. However, you might also remember the aging facilities, the concrete block bathrooms that have seen better days, and the bleachers that are somehow, still standing.

Capital improvement grants to the rescue

Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Legislature recognize the importance of Washington’s fairgrounds. During the pandemic, county fairs were used as vaccination centers; during wildfires, fairs are used to shelter people and livestock; and during the summer months, fairs educate the public about the importance of agriculture in our lives and to our state’s economy.

Arena at the Ferry County fairgrounds. 
 Since 2003, the legislature has helped fairs in their mission by awarding around $2 million each biennium for health and safety improvements to fairgrounds and facilities. In 2021, they emphasized the importance by awarding a whopping $8 million, enabling us to fund 78 projects across the state.

Fair organizers were able to submit applications for projects equal to or less than $250,000, for capital improvements.

What is a capital improvement?

A capital improvement is addition of a structural change or restoration of some part of the property that will improve the health and safety of fair goers.

Pierce County fairgrounds project.
What were the projects?

WSDA is funding 78 projects at fairs across the state.  Some projects are large and are part of even larger projects on their grounds. The smallest grant awarded was $5,500 for the installation of new sheep pens and barricades at the Pierce County Fair. To date, 15 projects are complete. Most of the rest are on track to be complete by May 31, 2023.

Projects include upgrades to electrical systems, upgrades to ventilation and filtration systems, replacing drain fields for restrooms, remodeling or constructing restrooms, repairing asphalt on fairgrounds, upgrades to livestock barns and ag buildings, reroofing, adding heating and air conditioning, and many others.

 If the legislature chooses to include funding to the fairs program in the next capital budget, the program will distribute grant applications for fairs next July. Check our website for future grants and for the full list of 2021-23 grant recipients.


Thursday, October 20, 2022

WSDA launches bilingual resource to help farmers reduce risk of foodborne illness

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

An image from the video resource tool teaching
about cleaning and sanitizing our team created. 
From farm to plate is an idea we love to think about in agriculture. Imagine your food growing at the hard-working hands of a neighbor; their careful attention to every detail to make that carrot, or apple, or other produce grow perfectly.

The path that food takes before it arrives on your plate is long and has many steps. Along the way there are microorganisms everywhere. These little guys (the microorganisms I mean), can contaminate our food and cause widespread illness in our communities.

That is why cleaning and sanitizing every surface and tool that touches produce is vital to public health.

Not only is it important, but it’s also required of most farmers by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.

WSDA, along with our partners at the University of Georgia and New Mexico State University, developed an online-animated tool with three learning modules to help educators and farm managers reinforce fundamental cleaning and sanitizing concepts. It emphasizes how to select a sanitizer and monitor its concentration using test strips and titration kits. The interactive tool simulates how to follow proper monitoring procedures, evaluate results, and record findings. 

The modules are visually engaging and interactive, requiring users to apply critical thinking and realistic decision-making. All content is available in English and Spanish.

Asking for your help

Please take our 5-minute survey by October 30th. We want feedback from anyone implementing or educating on produce safety practices including:

¾    Farmers

¾    Packers and distributors

¾    Extension educators

¾    Government and non-profit employees

¾    Other agricultural professionals


To access the tool, visit

Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Produce Safety Program developed this educational resource in partnership with University of Georgia and thanks to New Mexico State University’s Innovative Media Research and Extension Department for all design production.

Financial support for this educational resource was provided by the WSDA Food Safety Program, the WSDA Regional Markets Program, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Test Strip Lab and the Titration Lab were supported by the FDA as part of a financial assistance award #U18FD005913 totaling $6,106,186 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The Introductory Animation and the How to Clean and Sanitize module, totaling $43,830, were 100 percent funded by the WSDA Food Safety and WSDA Regional Markets Programs. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.



Monday, October 17, 2022

Don’t “fall” victim to avian influenza as seasonal rains return

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

It’s true, 30 days have passed since the latest detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a domestic flock in our state this year. The first case in 2022 was announced in May, since then, we’ve had a steady string of positive cases, until about 30 days ago.

Hold for applause.

That is incredible news, considering we’ve seen a steady climb in HPAI detection rates across the country. Our State Veterinarian says a big factor is the diligence and next-level biosecurity of our flock owners. Take a moment and pat yourself on the back.

Dr. Amber Itle, Washington State Veterinarian, says that another contributing factor to the decline in detections is that standing water has dried up, eliminating reservoirs for wild birds to congregate. 

However, the virus is still very prevalent in our environment; as we continue to see positive cases in wild birds right here in Washington.

The takeaway? You are doing great! Keep it up. Although this is an important milestone, flock owners should be cautious about relaxing biosecurity efforts. We are seeing surges across the Nation and even closer to home; including Idaho, Oregon, and California as the fall migration continues.

We must remain vigilant. Above all, avoid contact between your domestic flocks and wild waterfowl. If you do that, your flocks are less likely to contract the disease. 

Two important ways you can protect your flock from wild waterfowl is to protect their water supply and make sure spilled feed is picked up.

Wild birds are always looking for a free lunch. Our vets recommend to clean up spilled or uneaten feed right away, and make sure feed storage units are secure and free of holes.

Protect your flock’s water supply by keeping in clean, and in an area that wild birds cannot access it.

For additional information on the state’s bird flu status, visit

Thursday, September 29, 2022

More than $53 million invested in feeding hungry Washingtonians

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in 2020, as many as 1 in 3 Washingtonians experienced food insecurity. Chances are you may know someone affected, or have been part of this statistic yourself. Since July of last year, WSDA stepped in and launched a program that has issued more than $82 million in contracts to provide emergency food resources to those people and their families.

In Washington, a federal program benefited many families, farms, and food businesses until it abruptly ended in early 2021. In response, WSDA launched the We Feed WA Pilot Food Program in July 2021 to bring emergency food from Washington-based farms and food businesses to socially disadvantaged people experiencing hunger.

The We Feed WA pilot is the state alternative to the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program that expired in May of 2021. This federally funded pilot program is part of the state’s coordinated response to decrease food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and recovery period.

WSDA awarded more than $53 million this year to 21 hunger relief organizations that provide emergency food for the people in our state that need it most. We Feed WA helps hunger relief organizations that serve socially disadvantaged communities continue their work through partnerships with local and regional food producers, farmers and ranchers, processors and distributors.

Award recipients are providing goods and services across the state ranging from providing food directly to hungry Washingtonians, to procurement and unique distribution expertise, and technical assistance. There are five (5) award types;

  • -      Fresh Boxes ($22,124,850)
  • -      Emergency Boxes ($20,113,500)
  • -      Equity-Centered Household & Local Distribution ($2,681,800)
  • -      Supplemental Emergency Food Procurement, Logistics & Distribution ($8,045,400)
  • -      Technical Assistance ($670,450)

Each business and organization have contracted and committed to working alongside WSDA, learning from this pilot program and continuously assessing the needs and barriers that food insecure Washingtonians and food enterprises face.


This program aims to facilitate the procurement and distribution of emergency food across Washington state to hunger relief organizations, including organizations that serve black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), and other socially disadvantaged communities as directed by the Washington State Legislature while increasing the vitality of regional farms and food businesses.

Current contract awards range from $150,000 to more than $9 million. A diverse pool of Community Reviewers determined awards based on application scores.

For more information, visit or email The pilot program is part of WSDA’s Focus on Food Initiative, ensuring safe, nutritious, local food is effectively produced and available throughout our state.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Pest alert: Everett area residents asked to report sightings of oversized, striped-eyed grasshopper

Cassie Cichorz and Karla Salp
Pest Program and Communications

Close up of the head of an Egyptian grasshopper showing the striped eye
Egyptian grasshoppers have striped eyes
Photo credit: Hectonichus, CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
It is grasshopper season and, if you live near Everett, it is a good time to keep your eyes peeled for an unusually large grasshopper with unusual eyes.

An Everett resident reported one Egyptian grasshopper (Anacridium aegyptium) to Washington State entomologists earlier this year and USDA entomologists recently confirmed it as the first detection of the insect in Washington State. The Washington State Department of Agriculture will conduct visual surveys in the area but is asking the public to also be on the lookout for this large grasshopper with striped eyes.

The grasshoppers typically feed on plant leaves. Adults are usually olive, gray, or brown in color and are most likely to be seen toward the end of summer. Young grasshoppers can be green and may blend in with vegetation. Males can grow to over two inches

Green grasshopper with striped eyes on a green leaf
While young Egyptian grasshoppers are green, 
they still have striped eyes.
Photo credit: Metin Gulesci

long and females can be almost three inches long. The key to identifying these insects is their eyes - they have distinct black striping on their eyes that sets them apart from other grasshoppers.

“An overwintering grasshopper could easily hitchhike, so this is another case where we are asking the public to help us figure out if this is just a single specimen,” Sven Spichiger, WSDA managing entomologist, said. Only one living, but sluggish, grasshopper has been confirmed. There is currently no evidence of an established population.

Residents near Everett who believe they have seen this insect should send a photo to for identification and include the location where it was spotted. If you believe you have seen one outside of Washington State, please take a picture of it, note the location, and report it to your State Plant Regulatory Official or State Plant Health Director.

Adult Egyptian grasshopper on a green leaf
Adult Egyptian grasshopper
Photo credit: Metin Gulesci
Egyptian grasshoppers are generally regarded as a minor pest of concern in their native habitat but could be an occasional pest to crops, orchards, and vineyards. USDA is gathering available scientific information to help determine the potential risk of this insect.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

At the fair, make sure show animals get “the blue, not the flu”

Karla Salp

pigs in a pasture with only the rear end with curly tails visible
Pigs with their curly tails in a pasture
As wild and domestic bird flu cases continue to expand to additional counties across Washington, another influenza (flu) strain is also picking up in the U.S. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the fourth case of swine flu in a human – this time in Oregon.

Influenza viruses can be passed between humans, birds, and pigs. Because of this, it is important to practice good biosecurity whenever interacting with either birds or pigs on your farm and when attending fairs and livestock shows.

Swine flu viruses are different from seasonal flu viruses that infect people. Flu vaccines don’t generally protect against swine flu; they protect people against seasonal flu, which can also spread to pigs.

No swine flu vaccine is available for animals yet in the United States, but work is being done to get an approved vaccine to use for control in the face of an outbreak, with promising vaccines demonstrating 100% efficacy in swine.

Swine flu can spread among pigs throughout the year, though rates increase significantly when infected pigs spend more than three days at a fair or livestock show. Reducing the time pigs spend at fairs to three days or less is one way to reduce the risk of spreading swine flu. The Swine Exhibitions Zoonotic Working Group has also produced a checklist for exhibition organizers and youth organization leaders to minimize the spread of influenza, which includes recommended actions to take before, during, and after exhibitions.

Pig in a pen at a fair
Pig in a pen at a fair
For exhibitors as well as visitors to pig exhibits, these recommendations help prevent the spread of flu between pigs and humans:

  • Avoid close contact with pigs that look or act ill. For exhibition organizers, pigs should be observed daily for flu-like symptoms. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and running water before and after contact with pigs or visiting a swine barn or exhibit. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
  • People that are 65 or older, children under the age of 5, people who are pregnant, and people with certain long-term health conditions have higher risk of serious flu complications and should consider avoiding pigs and swine barns.
  • Keep food, drinks, and baby items, such as toys, pacifiers, bottles, and strollers, out of areas where there are pigs.

“After the fair, don’t bring home more than that blue ribbon,” Dr. Amber Itle, Washington State Veterinarian, said. “When showing animals – especially pigs and birds – take extra precautions to prevent the spread of swine flu and other diseases.”

But don’t think it is just the pigs that can infect humans. Humans can also infect pigs, so if you are not feeling well, take precautions to prevent spreading disease to your animals or have someone else care for your animals until you feel better.

interspecies influenza transmission graphic showing how flu strains can spread between species

If you own both birds and pigs, they should always be kept separate to reduce the risk of infection and mutating viruses. Prior to COVID-19, the last global pandemic was swine flu in 2009 – infecting an estimated 60 million people and resulting in over 12,000 deaths in the United States alone. That strain had signs of combined human, bird, and swine origins.

Given the high numbers of detection of bird flu throughout the country this year, adding swine flu to the mix is an unwelcome prospect – increasing the risk of another infectious and potentially deadly influenza strain. Keeping pigs and birds separated and practicing good biosecurity could prevent the next pandemic.

Additional resources

Video: What is swine flu?

Take Action to Prevent the Spread of Flu Between Pigs and People | CDC

Key Facts about Human Infections with Variant Viruses | CDC

What People Who Raise Pigs Need To Know About Influenza (Flu)

Monday, August 22, 2022

Cicada killer frequently mistaken as northern giant hornet

Cassie Cichorz
Pest Program

cicada killer side-by-side with a northern giant hornet
With summer here, people are outside enjoying nature and noticing insects! Citizens are on the lookout and reporting suspect giant hornets. WSDA’s team has been hard at work reviewing hundreds of reports of suspect northern giant hornets. Most of the insects reported are not harmful and play an important role in the environment. One insect, the western cicada killer (Sphecius grandis) seems to be trending as the most common native bug mistaken for a northern giant hornet (Vespa mandarina).

If you can familiarize yourself with some features of the look-alike insect in the spotlight, you’ll be able to identify differences. The western cicada killer is a very common native wasp that can be almost as large as a northern giant hornet. Cicada killers can be seen from late spring and throughout the summer.

Cicada killers can be up to two inches long, just like the northern giant hornet. Differences in their head, thorax, or abdomen will help you distinguish between the two species. The heads of cicada killers are narrower than their thorax, while the northern giant hornet has a head as wide as its thorax. The cicada killer has round eyes, unlike the angular eyes of giant hornets.

cicada killer

The thorax on a cicada killer is reddish in color, while the northern giant hornet’s is black. The cicada killer’s thorax and head are about the same color, unlike the contrasting head and thorax of the northern giant hornet. Both wasps have translucent, amber-colored wings.

You can also check the banding on the abdomen for differences. The northern giant hornet has horizontal lateral bands or striping on its abdomen. The cicada killer’s bands will drop down like teardrops, or have dots between the bands.

Female cicada killers are solitary and dig their nests in the ground. You will often find their nests around areas with lots of sunlight, and sometimes you will see a mound of dirt near the entrance. Cicada killers do not actively defend their nests normally. Males can be territorial, but they do not have a stinger.

Northern giant hornet nests can be underground or in tree cavities. Unlike cicada killers, hornets are social and live in large colonies – which they will vigorously defend. Away from the nest, hornets are typically non-aggressive unless provoked.

WSDA has other information on look-alike insects, including a poster guide available for use and download. Click here to learn more about identification. Cicada killers do not need to be reported, but if you suspect you’ve seen a giant hornet in Washington State or are not sure if what you have seen is one or not, get a photo and report it at

Friday, August 5, 2022

Pest alert: Have you seen this huge moth? It just showed up in Bellevue

Karla Salp

The non-native atlas moth compared with large
moths found in North America. 
Washington State entomologists are asking the public to report sightings of the atlas moth after one was recently discovered in Bellevue. There are no known traps for atlas moths, so WSDA is hoping to determine whether there are additional moths in the area based on public reports. With this single atlas moth detection only, there is no evidence that an atlas moth population is established in Washington.

Residents are encouraged to photograph, collect, and report atlas moths if they are seen. The moths do not pose a public health threat and thus can safely be photographed, handled, and collected.

“This is a ‘gee-whiz’ type of insect because it is so large,” Sven Spichiger, WSDA managing entomologist, said. “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of – they are that striking.”

Washington State residents who believe they have seen this moth should send a photo to for identification and include the location where it was spotted. While there are no reports of atlas moth anywhere else in the U.S., if you believe you’ve found it outside of Washington State, please take a picture of it, note the location, and report it to the State Plant Regulatory Official or State Plant Health Director in your state.

The atlas moth found on a Bellvue garage
The moth was initially reported to WSDA via a University of Washington professor on July 7. WSDA entomologists identified it as an atlas moth and sent it to USDA for confirmation, which is the standard process for new pest detections. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Investigation Service confirmed the specimen as an atlas moth on July 27 and it is believed to be the first confirmed detection of the moth in the United States.
Atlas moth compared to a man's hand

One of the world’s largest known moths with a wingspan of up to almost 10 inches, it is also a federally quarantined pest – meaning it is illegal to obtain, harbor, rear, or sell live moths whether adults, eggs, larvae, or pupae without a permit from USDA. USDA has more information about permits on its invertebrate pets web page. While there is minimal research about the moth, entomologists believe host plants may include apple and cherry.

“This is normally a tropical moth. We are not sure it could survive here,” Spichiger said. “USDA is gathering available scientific and technical information about this moth and will provide response recommendations, but in the meantime, we hope residents will help us learn if this was a one-off escapee or whether there might indeed be a population in the area.” 

Note: This blog was updated on August 17 to reflect that rather than being the world's largest moth, it is one of the world's largest moths.