Wednesday, May 18, 2022

State veterinarian confirms rabbit hemorrhagic disease in King County

Amber Betts
Communications

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) state veterinarian’s office has confirmed the presence of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus type 2 (RHDV2), in a King County rabbit.  RHDV2 is a highly contagious, fatal rabbit disease.

A private veterinarian tested the rabbit, which was housed exclusively indoors, after sudden deaths were reported. The premises is under quarantine and has implemented biosecurity measures.

RHDV2 history in Washington

In 2019, RHDV2 killed hundreds of feral domestic and domestic rabbits in Island and Clallam counties. Before then, the disease was designated as a foreign animal disease (FAD). If FADs are detected, there are a number of restrictions and emergency rules put into effect. Because of that outbreak, the virus is now considered stable-endemic, which means it already exists in the environment. Since the outbreak three years ago, 15 additional states have reported detections in either wild or domestic rabbits. As of April 2022, RHDV2 has been confirmed in wild and domestic rabbits in nearly 20 states nationwide.

Because the disease now exists generally in the environment, there won’t be any additional restrictions or rules set into place with this detection.

Vaccine available

Late last year the state vet’s office authorized the emergency use of a vaccine for RHDV2, which is now available to all Washington veterinarians. The vaccine has been shown to be protective against RHDV2. The vaccine must be administered by a Washington licensed veterinarian.

State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle is calling all rabbit owners to ask their veterinarians about the vaccine and to have their rabbits vaccinated as soon as possible. Due to the contagious and extremely infectious nature of this virus, vaccination is critical for disease control to protect our domestic and wild rabbit populations alike.   

“Remember to observe good biosecurity practices in addition to vaccinating your bunnies.  Be sure to isolate new additions for three weeks before commingling them with your colony and avoid contact with domestic and wild rabbits,” she said.

Veterinarians who would like to order the vaccine should contact Medgene labs directly at 605-697-2600.

For more information on RHDV2, biosecurity, and prevention, please visit WSDA’s Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease webpage.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Not so dandy – diverse plantings improve pollinator forage

Karla Salp
Communications

Dandelions with Mt. Adams in the background
Love them or hate them, this time of year dandelions are starting to bloom, leading to the oft-repeated claim that dandelions are a great source (sometimes also claimed the only source) of early spring blooms for honey bees and other pollinators. While dandelions can be an important source of pollen for bees if there is nothing else blooming, in reality, the plants lack some essential amino acids necessary for the proper development of the hive. Dandelions can indeed help bees survive when necessary, but alone honey bees cannot thrive on them.

If you want to help pollinators, it is best to have diverse flower sources that bloom throughout the year. Here are some ideas of things to plant that make a difference for bees all year long:

Trees for Bees

Honey bee on tree blossoms
Believe it or not, trees can be one of the best sources of forage for pollinators and can provide some of the greatest density of forage/acre for bees. Most people think of fruit trees – such as cherries, apples, and pears – as being good forage sources and indeed they are. But many other trees – such as maple, linden, and willow – are also a-buzz with bees when they are in bloom. The flowers may be tiny but trees produce thousands of them, providing a glut of forage for pollinators when in bloom. Tip: If you have space, plant a variety of trees that combined bloom over a long period of time.

Shrubs

Honey bee on lavender
In addition to trees, there are numerous native and cultivated shrubs that provide copious flowers for pollinators. In Western Washington, there are several plants that will bloom even in the winter months – well before the dandelions show their sunny petals. Native plants like the red flowering currant and serviceberry are pollinator favorites. But cultivated shrubs like lilac, blueberries, and lavender also provide excellent sources. Shrubs are great for any yard and because they are generally much smaller than trees, most people have room for at least one shrub in their garden.

Flowers (of course)

While they don’t provide the quantity of forage found with trees and shrubs, flowers remain an important source of food for pollinators. The best part is that virtually everyone can plant flowers for pollinators, even if you only have a small pot on a balcony. Honey bees tend to prefer daisy-like flowers with flat, open surfaces, but plant a variety of flowers with different shapes to attract and support a wider range of pollinators. Clover is one type of flower that honey bees particularly like. Allowing clover to remain in your lawn provides not only forage for pollinators but it does double-duty and fixes nitrogen for your lawn as well!

Variety is the spice of pollinators’ lives

Bumblebee on berry flower

Like humans, some pollinators like honey bees need a varied diet for optimum nutrition and health. Some pollinators are specialists and rely on one type of plant as their sole food source. If you want to support a wide variety of different pollinators, including honey bees, aim to grow a variety of different plants that bloom at all different times of the year. Dandelions may bring a bee to your yard, but year-round blooms will keep them there.

For more information on helping pollinators in Washington State, visit agr.wa.gov/pollinators to learn more about WSDA’s Pollinator Health Task Force. 




Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Risky business: New WSDA program protects gardens, farms, and environment from prohibited plant sales

Karla Salp
Communications

Illegal plant sales can introduce or spread new pests, 
such as this lily leaf beetle which was found
in gardens near Bellevue. 
Skyrocketing online sales since the start of the pandemic put further pressure on a known potential pathway for invasive plants and plant diseases to enter our state: illegal plant sales.

The problematic issue came into the public eye in July of 2020 when reports of seed packets from China and other countries – some solicited and some not – became widespread both in the U.S. and abroad.

The WSDA Plant Services Program had long been grappling with this challenge – occasionally receiving reports from Washington consumers about illegal plant sales on social media and through online retailers but not having a clear path forward on how to effectively respond to complaints. 

Fast forward to October 2021 when WSDA started a first-of-its-kind program to directly address the issue of illegal online sales of prohibited plants: the Online Enforcement Program. With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Plant Services Program was able to dedicate the majority of one inspector’s time – Tristan Carette-Meyers – to work with vendors to stop these illegal sales. 

The problem – illegal plants threaten gardens, farms, and the environment

Blueberry scorch virus is one of the diseases
WSDA is trying to prevent in Washington
Photo credit: WSU Whatcom County Extension
While it may seem that selling plants should be helping, rather than harming, the environment, that is not always the case.

The sale of certain plants has been prohibited in Washington because their invasive nature can overwhelm and out-compete native plants. This has a downstream effect that impacts not only local plants but animals, food sources, habitat, and more.

Secondly, the movement of some uncertified plants into Washington has been prohibited because they pose a risk to the existing plants and the agriculture industry. For example, blueberry plants cannot be shipped into Washington unless certified disease-free. Washington is currently the top producer of blueberries in the country. If diseased or infested plants were to enter the state through unauthorized sales, it could decimate an entire industry to the tune of millions of dollars annually.

But it is not only farmers who would suffer. Gardeners and others who try to eat locally sourced food would soon be forced to look elsewhere for blueberries that would otherwise grow quite readily throughout the state.

The consumer-awareness solution

Protecting the state from the threat that illegal plant sales pose requires both the public and the state to take action.

Whether the plant itself may be invasive or might introduce a plant pest, consumers would be wise to protect their own gardens as well farms and the environment by educating themselves about the state’s plant quarantines.

Also, be discerning about where you purchase plants. Sales through social media or online are the riskiest – there are just too many for WSDA to monitor and many are not official businesses, making them difficult to track or contact. The few dollars you may save will rapidly evaporate should the plant you buy take over your garden or introduce a new pest or disease.

Buying from reputable, licensed, local nurseries familiar with the state plant and pest quarantines dramatically reduces the risk that the plant you buy will turn out to be Pandora’s box of problems.

While buying local does decrease your risk, you don’t have to stop shopping online altogether. Just be sure to ask the online vendor questions about the plant and their knowledge of Washington plant quarantines. A reputable vendor will be familiar with them; you may want to shop elsewhere if they can't answer your questions satisfactorily.

The vendor-awareness solution

Amazon is one vendor that has taken steps to prevent
the shipment of quarantined plants into Washington.
While consumers can take steps to protect themselves by ensuring they purchase from reputable distributors, WSDA’s new program has already been hard at work. Since it started last October, the Online Enforcement Program has contacted over 1,200 vendors about over 1,600 potential plant sale violations.

The program has focused its efforts on both big and small businesses – everything from eBay to Etsy. For example, due to the program’s efforts, Amazon and eBay have now established filters to prevent the sale of prohibited plants and other products from being available for shipment to Washington. WSDA has also provided materials to these companies to provide to their vendors to prevent future violations.

Because of their size, these platforms not only have the potential to sell the most plants illegally, but correcting those problems also has the potential to have the greatest benefit in protecting our state’s nursery and agriculture industry.

On Etsy, the program reaches out to individual sellers about potential violations. Etsy vendors have been particularly responsive.

When buying plants, safety first

Buying plants is one of the simple pleasures in life that can help people create their dream gardens. By working together, WSDA and consumers can prevent those dreams from turning into the nightmare of unexpected invasive plants, pests, and diseases. If you notice illegal plant sales – whether in-person or online – email nursery@agr.wa.gov to provide details (including links if it is online) about the incident. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Hold your horses - what horse owners need to know about EHM and EHV-1

Dr. Bruce Hutton
WSDA Field Veterinarian

Spring is just around the corner and horses are going to be coming together under stressful conditions whether for a weekend trail ride, jackpot roping, or a large, nationally-organized event – prime conditions for equine herpes virus (EHV). 

Just this month, a horse in King County tested positive for non-neuropathogenic EHV-1 neurologic strain. Unfortunately, the horse had to be euthanized.

There are multiple strains of EHV-1 in horses. A diagnosis of EHM is made when a horse is infected with EHV-1 and showing neurological signs independent of what strain of the virus the horse is infected with. 

To be clear, the horse in Washington was not infected with the strain of virus currently causing an EHM outbreak in California. 

The outbreak in California is caused by the neuropathogenic strain of EHV-1 which is more highly contagious and more deadly than the non-neuropathogenic strain. 

The horse diagnosed in Washington was infected with the non-neuropathogenic strain which usually causes only mild respiratory diseases. Unfortunately, this horse also developed neurological signs (EHM) and had to be euthanized. 

With this recent case and the recent cases in California, it’s a good time to review your knowledge of EHV-1 and equine herpes meyloencephalopathy (EHM), and make sure you have a robust biosecurity program to prevent the spread of disease associated with commingling of horses.

What to watch for 

Most horses have been exposed to, or infected with, the equine herpes virus by the time they are two years old.

There are several equine herpes viruses, with EHV-1 and 4 posing the greatest risk to the horse community. Symptoms of EHV-1 infection in horses include: 

  • respiratory disease (rhinopneumonitis)
  • abortions
  • neonatal death
  • neurological disease

EHV-4 produces a mild to moderate respiratory disease in foals, occasionally causes abortions, and in extremely rare cases develops into EHM. 

After an initial EHV-1 infection, the virus remains in the body in its latent form, essentially hiding from the immune system, waiting for the opportunity to revert to its active form. Stress, caused by traveling, training, overcrowding, or competition, is often the trigger for the virus to revert.  

Once active, EHV-1 is highly infectious and spreads quickly through direct contact with nasal secretions or aerosol droplets. Direct horse-to-horse contact does not require the horses to have actual physical contact, only direct contact with the nasal discharges of an infected horse. 

People can’t be infected by the virus, but they often facilitate its spread through contamination of hands, clothing, equipment, tack, trailers, stalls, feed buckets, water buckets, and many other items. In addition, aerosol droplets can travel several feet to infect other nearby horses.


Once infected with EHV-1, horses will usually exhibit signs of illness within four to six days.  Clinical signs range from mild respiratory to severe neurological deficits. Typical signs of respiratory disease include fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, slight cough, depression, going off feed, and swollen lymph nodes. Clinical signs of EHM include fever, depression, hind end weakness and incoordination, loss of tail tone, head tilt, urine dribbling, and may present as down and unable to rise. 

EHM cases often have minimal to no respiratory signs. Unlike respiratory disease, from which most horses recover, EHM is a life-threatening disease with no cure. Treatment is limited to supportive care and the prognosis is poor with a fatality rate as high as 30 percent.  

Even though EHV-1 is highly contagious and can quickly spread among horses, it doesn’t typically persist long in the environment and can be neutralized efficiently with good hygiene practices. In fact, EHV-1 is estimated to persist in the environment for less than 7 days and no more than 30 days under ideal conditions.  

Available vaccines can prevent the respiratory and abortion forms of EHV-I, but none are labeled as preventing EHM. Maintaining a vaccination protocol for the respiratory and abortion forms of EHV-1 decreases viral shedding and may decrease the incidence of EHM. 

Strong biosecurity measures, which should be in place even in the absence of an outbreak, are essential for limiting the spread of EHV-1 and EHM.

Protecting your horse

Here are some recommendations to minimize the spread of EHV-1 before, during, and after commingling at a show or event: 

  1. Have a strong biosecurity plan and practice it at all times to prevent the spread of infectious agents.
  2. Keep horses current on all recommended vaccines and have health papers in order.
  3. Prevent horse-to-horse contact and provide each horse with its own equipment including tack, grooming equipment, water bucket, feed bucket and all other items. Do not share the equipment with other horses.
  4. Keep people from touching your horse, especially around the face, nose, and neck. If people do touch your horse (groomers, hair braiders, veterinarians, etc.), insist they first wash their hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and again after touching your horse. 
  5. Bring several gallon jugs of your own water to water your horse so you won’t need to use a common hose.
  6. If a common hose is used for watering, make sure the nozzle and any other part which could touch the water bucket is disinfected. After the hose is disinfected, hold it high above the water bucket, do not touch any part of the bucket with the hose. Do not immerse the hose end into your water bucket when filling it. 
  7. Disinfect your shoes or boots right after the show and before returning to your barn.
  8. Wash your clothes immediately after attending a show.
  9. Don’t stable your horse with other horses. If you can, keep your horse in its trailer. If you must stable it, clean, and disinfect the area thoroughly.
  10. Check your horse’s temperature twice daily for at least two weeks after returning home and monitor them for the respiratory or neurological signs mentioned above. If a fever develops or signs appear, contact your veterinarian immediately and let them know you have recently traveled with your horse, and the particulars of the show

Reportable diseases

EHV-1 and EHM are reportable diseases in the state of Washington. Visit our Reportable Diseases webpage to report cases. 

After contacting your veterinarian, it is likely they will take nasal swabs and blood samples to check for EHV-1. It is important to isolate your horse and treat them as if they were infected until laboratory results come in.

Prevention, through good planning and good biosecurity plans, is always better than dealing with an outbreak. The Equine Disease Communication Center (EDCC) at equinediseasecc.org/alerts provides a good online tool for horse owners interested in checking out the current equine disease alerts in the United States and Canada. It’s always a good idea to check before you go.

Friday, March 25, 2022

WSDA awards Director Citation to retiring director of state hop commission

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

Ann George (L), accepts the WSDA Director's 
Citation award, presented by WSDA's Brad White (R). 
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) director’s citation award is an honor that is given to recognize those in the ag community who have devoted their lives to promote and enhance agriculture in our state.

So it was no surprise to those around her that Ann George, Executive Director of the Washington State Hop Commission, was presented with the honor at a regular Washington Hop Commission meeting March 23, 2022.

“Ann has shown incredible dedication, devotion, and passion for the promotion of hops and agriculture in general in our state. As she prepares to retire, she leaves quite the legacy behind,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. “It is my absolute honor to present her with this award.”

Dr. Brad White, WSDA’s plant protection assistant director, presented the award on behalf of WSDA Director Sandison at a recent meeting of the Washington Hop Commission.

Ann served as the Executive Director of the Washington Hop Commission and Hop Growers of Washington since 1987. Her resume and list of accomplishments do not stop there.

She also served as the executive director of Hop Growers of America since 2007. As she prepares for retirement, Ann leaves a 35-year legacy, playing a key role in forming the US Hop Industry Plant Protection Committee, an international regulatory harmonization program. She also was crucial in forming the HGA Best Practices Committee and Good Bines educational platform. If that wasn’t enough to make her mark on agriculture in the state and across the nation, she also manages Science and Technical programs, political and regulatory efforts, and has secured numerous grants to expand the hop industry’s resources.

Today, Washington produces more hops than any other state in the nation, and hops are among our top 10 crops, with revenues of $445 million in 2019.

“It’s important to note, this isn’t an annual award,” Megan Finkenbinder, WSDA fairs and commissions administrator, said. “It’s only given to those who have truly risen to the level of contribution to the industry and deserve this prestigious award,”.

Visit our Director's Citation webpage to learn about previous recipients and how to nominate someone for recognition as exceptional supporters of our state's farming, ranching, and food producing community.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Drought and soil survey for Washington’s dryland wheat farmers

Are you a dryland wheat farmer affected by the 2021 drought? If you are, the Washington State Department of Agriculture needs your help. 

As part of its continuing work addressing soil health, WSDA is looking for information from dryland wheat farmers about soil management practices, particularly relating to drought. This information will be critical for the researchers involved in the Washington Soil Health Initiative as they learn ways to support agricultural operations enduring drought conditions in the future.

The Drought and Soil Survey will be open until May 1. The survey is detailed, but can be completed over multiple sessions and does not have to be filled out all at once. 

Questions will cover how you manage your soils, the cost of implementing different soil management practices, and the effects of the 2021 drought on your operations.

Results will increase our understanding of dryland production and help us communicate with decision makers so we can better support you. Survey takers will be anonymous, but we will make a summary of the responses available to the agricultural community. 

This survey is being conducted on behalf of the Washington Soil Health Initiative, a joint effort of WSDA, Washington State University, and the Washington State Conservation Commission to study soil health in our state and explore ways to improve it.

Soil health focuses on how well a soil system supports plants, animals, and people. It also recognizes the living nature of soils and the importance of soil microorganisms. Visit agr.wa.gov/AgScience to find our soil health page.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

WSDA announces awardees of Local Meat Processing Capacity Grants

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications 

Grants support small meat processing
operations in Washington.
The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that there is a need for more meat processing services for small farms and ranches in Washington, to strengthen food supply chains and local food economies. This week Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) identified grant recipients to support small meat processing operations serving direct-marketing farms and ranches around the state.

WSDA received an overwhelming response to the grant opportunity with 112 applications for the WSDA Local Meat Processing Capacity Grants.  Applications totaled more than $27 million in funding requests. The Washington State Legislature allocated $3.6 million for this grant. 

“We received many great project applications and truly wished for the ability to fund more of the clearly-demonstrated need within the small meat processing industry,” Alyssa Jumars, Local Meat Marketing and Capacity Specialist for the Regional Markets Program said. “We are grateful to all applicants for their time and for their commitment to serving small farms and ranches.”

The purpose of the grant program is to increase access to livestock and poultry processing for small to midsize farmers and ranchers so they can better serve people in Washington state. 

The grants will help the selected small and midsize meat processors expand their capacity to serve Washington farmers and ranchers that sell their meat and poultry products directly to consumers, stores, food hubs, restaurants, schools, and other local buyers.  

A dozen expert reviewers from across the state reviewed anonymized applications. Reviewers scored applications based on consideration of a project’s ability to expand harvest or processing capacity, and provide direct benefit to small, direct-marketing farms. A project’s achievability was also a key consideration (ie: reasonableness of project and project costs, level of planning, readiness to implement, and achievability on the timeline).  

Grants were available in two categories: “Small Projects” and “Large Projects.” Given the amount of applications, reviewers agreed to fund a larger number of small projects, even at much smaller amounts – in order to spread resources as widely as possible across the state. Geographic areas with particularly limited access to meat processing services received additional consideration and funds for top-scoring projects. WSDA awarded 36 projects in the “small projects” category among 22 different counties in Washington. 

In the large projects category, reviewers funded the highest-scoring projects at an amount that will allow them to significantly expand capacity and make a notable impact. WSDA awarded four projects in this category in as many counties. 

For more information about the awards, visit our grants page. These grants contribute to a larger WSDA initiative to Focus on Food. This initiative supports Washington’s food system and works to ensure that safe, nutritious food is effectively produced, distributed, and delivered to people who want and need it. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Biosecurity and protecting your horse from strangles

This week, a Snohomish County horse that recently attended a show in Whatcom County was diagnosed with strangles, Streptococcus equi, an endemic bacterial infection that is rarely fatal, but as the name suggests, can affect a horse’s respiratory system. 

There is no evidence the horse was contagious at the time or that it contracted the disease at the show.  

Since January, there have been reports of six other confirmed, laboratory-diagnosed cases of strangles in Okanagan, Clallam, Kitsap, and Pierce counties.

Private veterinarians usually manage the strangles cases reported to the Washington State Veterinarian’s Office, including imposing self-quarantine, implementing biosecurity measures, and executing testing protocols. WSDA field veterinarians contact those veterinarians to monitor these cases and provide support, including issuing official quarantine orders in some cases. 

When a quarantine is in effect, no horses are allowed to move on or off the premises, attend horse shows, or travel. It is actually against the law to expose other animals to contagious, infectious, or communicable diseases.

How to protect your horse against strangles

Any time you attend a show, WSDA recommends monitoring horse’s body temperatures twice a day and isolating horses for up to three weeks to monitor for disease. Oftentimes, fever will precede illness and early detection can help prevent disease transmission. The incubation period (time of exposure to time of clinical signs) can range from 3-14 days. While strangles is a concern to many horse owners, there have also been several cases of Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy reported in California, a potentially fatal viral disease showcasing why biosecurity practices are critical for horses that attend exhibitions or other events.  

Strangles is rarely fatal and the prognosis for recovery is usually very good with proper care. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Abscesses in the mandibular lymph nodes
  • Nasal discharge that can include thick white and yellow mucus
  • Inflammation of the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • In rare cases, bleeding from the capillaries

Good biosecurity practices are the best defense against the disease. The Equine Disease Communication Center’s “What is biosecurity?” offers excellent recommendations. 

The EDCC also recommends the following:

  • When possible, isolate new horses for up to three weeks when they are being introduced to a new facility. 
  • If you have handled an infected animal during an outbreak, avoid coming in contact with susceptible animals. 
  • Wear protective clothing, avoid using the same equipment on multiple animals, and disinfect both your hands and equipment when moving between animals.

This “Strangles Fact Sheet” from the EDCC has more information on this disease, tips and suggestions.

Remember to notify WSDA if you become aware of a reportable disease by visiting our “Reportable Diseases” webpage.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Asian giant hornets go to school

Karla Salp
Communications

A student examines a hornet larva
While Asian giant hornet queens are still snuggled up for the winter, WSDA’s Pest Program has no time to rest. Winter/early spring is when our entomologists review the previous year’s results and make plans for the coming season.

From the start, an important part of WSDA’s approach to ridding the state of this invasive pest has been public education and involvement, which is what brought outreach specialist Cassie Cichorz to visit a third-grade class at Skyline Elementary in Ferndale last Tuesday.

With a wagon full of hornet memorabilia, Cassie has been visiting classrooms around Whatcom County, bringing the hornet to children class by class. Her impressive collection includes hornets in various life stages, combs from nests, a hornet suit she uses during nest eradication, posters, and – always popular with the students – Asian giant hornet temporary tattoos.

Students giving a thumbs-up for their favorite 
Asian giant hornet life stage

Winter is the perfect time for Cassie’s classroom visits – it is a break from our fieldwork that coincides nicely with school schedules – especially those in areas most likely to encounter the world’s largest hornet.  

Cassie Cichorz calls on a student in the back
of the class while displaying hornets
A former school teacher, Cassie has the skill to effectively engage with students and share her hornet knowledge with school children, teaching them how hornets live, what they eat, how they develop, and the threat they pose to local honey bees. Students also learn what to do if they think they see one: tell an adult who can get a picture and report it to WSDA.

Cassie spent half an hour with the class. While telling them about the hornets, she passed around vials containing hornets at various life stages. Some of the students displayed an impressive knowledge of insect development, naming all of the life insect stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

She also carried around a piece of comb from one of the nests that WSDA eradicated just a few miles from the school. The nest comb was “look but don’t touch” because of how delicate the paper comb is.

A student looks at pinned hornet specimens

Both students and staff were fascinated by the insects and most are excited about the opportunity to see them up close. One little girl was too excited to stay in her seat and kept sneaking up close to Cassie to better see the specimens she had even before they were passed around the room. And one staff member confessed that teachers who had already hosted Cassie in and her wagon of wonders in their rooms were sure to take a selfie with a hornet.

Cassie Cichorz lets students feel her hornet suit

While most students love the presentation, not everyone is so enthusiastic.

“Thanks, I’ll never sleep again,” one student said as Cassie packed up her wagon to head to the next classroom.

Schools in Whatcom County interested in the presentations can contact Cassie. She isn’t able to visit every school in the state, but there are many Asian giant hornet resources on our website, including math and science lesson plans appropriate for grades 6 – 10 from Scholastic. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

WSDA awards $4.1 million in grants for hunger relief efforts

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications 

Last fall, WSDA announced a new grant program to help expand hunger relief efforts statewide, opening the grants up to all eligible hunger relief organizations serving Washington communities whether or not they were previously contract with WSDA to distribute food assistance.

This month, the agency notified 91 organizations around Washington that they would be receiving funds through the Flexible Fund Grant Program. In all, WSDA awarded $4.1 million to these organizations. 

WSDA distributes millions of dollars annually through its Food Assistance programs. The program works by contracting with hunger relief organizations, Tribes, and tribal organizations in all 39 counties to deliver government-funded food assistance resources across the state. These include both state funds and federal funds as well as commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Food Assistance Flexible Funding grants program is funded through the state Legislature to build resiliency through grants and initiatives. In its inaugural year, eligible grants fell into three categories:

  • Making food distribution more efficient:  Improving food access through staff support, capacity improvements, and equipment purchasing.
  • Targeted community needs: Supporting organizations serving historically underrepresented communities and needs.
  • Innovations and food system improvements: Improving local food systems and/or supporting local agriculture and businesses.

Grants ranged from just under $1,000 to more than $200,000. Projects included culturally-relevant foods access, staffing, gleaning program expansion, warehouse equipment, facility renovations, and more. 

Visit agr.wa.gov/grants for more information about WSDA grant opportunities, including the second round of this grant program to launch Spring 2022 under a new name, the Resiliency Grants Program. 

The grant program contributes to WSDA’s ongoing Focus on Food Initiative, which focuses on strengthening Washington’s food system at the regional level and ensuring safe, nutritious food is effectively produced and distributed throughout our state.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Bird flu making its way through the U.S.

Dr. Dana Dobbs
WSDA avian health lead

If you want to protect your flock from avian influenza, now is the time to get serious about biosecurity.

What started last year with detections of avian influenza abroad, has now entered the United States via the Atlantic Flyway (north-south flyway for migratory birds in the Americas). The disease was first confirmed in wild waterfowl, specifically dabbling ducks, in North and South Carolina.

Last week, USDA has confirmed H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana. This week detections were seen in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky and a backyard flock of mixed species birds in Fauquier County, Virginia.

State and federal officials, as well as the commercial poultry producers continue to react swiftly to contain the disease and establish a Control Area, or quarantine zone. The unified emergency response, epidemiological investigation, and surveillance efforts are in progress. 

During routine surveillance by USDA’s Wildlife Services officials detected “Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza” (LPAI) in wild waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway. These waterfowl can carry and spread the virus without appearing sick. While HPAI detections have not been made near Washington yet, it is time to get serious about biosecurity to protect your flock. 

The best way to prevent birds from becoming infected is to keep the virus from reaching your birds in the first place. That means learning the signs of infection and practicing good biosecurity. Signs of HPAI infection may include: nasal discharge and sneezing, sudden death (with or without clinical signs), decreased feed or water intake, swollen and or purple colored wattles, combs, and legs, decreased egg production, and more. While there are many elements to biosecurity, here are a few basics.

Limit contact with your birds

Do not allow visitors and animals to have access to your birds. People who work with your birds should not own or be around other birds.

Anyone that must interact with your birds should wear disposable boot covers, rubber boots, or have the ability to clean and disinfect their shoes before and after their visit. During periods of heightened disease risk, bring your birds inside or under cover if at all possible and limit contact with wild waterfowl and their droppings.

Keep it clean

Have dedicated shoes and clothing for handling your birds. In addition, scrub shoes with a scrub brush to remove droppings, mud, and debris before cleaning and disinfecting Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, or apply a disinfectant, such as hand sanitizer, before entering your bird area. Disposable latex gloves are another valuable addition to your toolbox and can help prevent the spread of disease.

Don't bring disease home

If you visit a place that has birds or where bird owners may visit, like a feed store, clean and disinfect your vehicle and anything else that travelled with you. Shower and change clothes before visiting your flock.

Keep new birds separate from the flock for at least 30 days and only purchase birds from National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) approved sources. This also applies to any birds that have recently returned from fairs or exhibitions. They may have been exposed to disease while they were away and may look healthy at first.  

Don't share equipment, feed, or other items such as cages with other bird owners. If you must share equipment, ensure that it has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected first.

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) program has a detailed checklist to enhance your flock’s biosecurity efforts, and other useful tips may be found at the Defend the Flock Resource Center. 

Please report any unusual or high rates of illness or death in your flocks to the WSDA Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056. Learn more at agr.wa.gov/birdflu 

Together, we can keep our birds safe and protected from avian influenza.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Report shines a light on benefits of state fairs

Megan Finkenbinder
WSDA Fairs Program Administrator 

Everyone loves a fair and a new report suggests they make good business sense, too. 

The report, Washington Agricultural Fairs: Economic and Social Impact, was released at the end of 2021 and found that agricultural fairs generate almost $400 million annually in business revenue. In addition, according to the report, fairs create thousands of jobs and open opportunities for the broader public to connect with Washington agriculture.

WSDA funded the study by Seattle-based Community Attributes Inc. (CAI) at the request of the Washington State Fairs Association. 

WSDA administers the Washington State Fairs Commission, an eight-member advisory committee that reports to the WSDA director and provides evaluations of fairs that help determine the amount of state funding provided to support fairs. 

For the report, researchers with CAI studied economic figures from 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. The data paints a picture of a robust fair scene before the pandemic struck, prompting most fairs to cancel in 2020. However, several were held in 2021. 

The researchers found that fairs across the state play an important role in their communities, providing local jobs, and bringing visitors who spend their dollars at the fair and in the surrounding community. The report also found that fairs are helping create a new generation of farmers, ranchers and food producers through the wide range of ag-related showings and exhibits, often involving youth. 

In 2019, 69 agricultural fairs were held across Washington, including 38 county or area fairs, 19 community fairs, and 12 youth shows. Pierce, Yakima, Snohomish, Stevens, Cowlitz, Whitman, Grant and Spokane counties hosted half of all these fairs. 

The researchers broke down fair activity for 2019 by the numbers:

  • More than 3.3 million people visited fairs.
  • 68,000 exhibitors participated, including many from out of state.
  • 5,600 volunteers helped staff fairs statewide.

In terms of economic impacts, fairs contributed millions to state coffers, and are significant job creators for their communities. In addition, many non-profit and charity-based organizations raise substantial portions of their annual budgets through fundraising booths and activities at fairs.

 In 2019, the contributions of fairs also included: 

  • $397 million in business revenue
  • 3,200 jobs
  • $10 million in tax revenues  
While the report data was primarily from 2019, the researchers noted some 2020 activities undertaken by fairs to demonstrate the community value fairs offer. 

Several fairgrounds, for example, were used to support efforts in addressing the pandemic, serving as temporary or permanent locations for coronavirus testing and vaccination. Other examples included the Lewis County Fairgrounds operating a homeless shelter in April 2020 as part of the pandemic response. The State Fair Park in Yakima County opened its RV park and stables to people and animals fleeing the Evans Canyon Fire in August. 

Annual agriculture fairs create fun experiences and memories for millions in Washington State. They are also economic engines that generate jobs and revenue for the local communities that host them. What’s not to love about a fair?

Visit WSDA’s Agricultural Fairs webpage to view the entire report. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Changes proposed for the ag water requirements of the Produce Safety Rule – join us to learn what they mean

Connie Fisk
WSDA Produce Safety Program 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed significant changes to Subpart E of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule, amending the requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water.

To help growers understand the FDA proposal, WSDA has joined with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) to host a webinar where FDA will give an overview of the proposed rule change, followed by a question and answer session.

Webinar information:
There is no need to register ahead of time to join the meeting, which will be recorded and available for later viewing.

The FSMA Produce Safety Rule 

The Produce Safety Rule, first adopted in 2015, is one of the seven rules that make up FMSA. The rule focuses primarily on reducing microbial food safety risks during the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce (including fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and herbs) for human consumption and was the first mandatory federal standard for produce production in the United States. Previously, the produce industry was encouraged to follow voluntary guidance.

The Produce Safety Rule has multiple subparts; Subpart E details the requirements for agricultural water and the proposed rule released for public comment December 6, 2021 makes significant changes to those requirements.

More than half of the Washington produce farms covered by the FSMA Produce Safety Rule use surface water for pre-harvest agricultural water uses, including irrigation. However, many farms use multiple water sources including surface, ground, and municipal water. 

The proposed agricultural water rule 

The proposed rule, if finalized, would replace the requirement to test pre-harvest water for generic E. coli with a new requirement to perform an annual written systems-based agricultural water assessment to identify any condition reasonably likely to introduce known or reasonably foreseeable hazards into or onto covered produce or food contact surfaces. Then, the assessment would help determine whether any corrective or mitigation measures are needed.

To review the proposal in more detail, visit the FSMA Proposed Rule on Agricultural Water webpage, also available in Spanish

The FDA has also prepared an Agricultural Water Proposed Rule fact sheet to explain the proposed changes.

How to comment on the proposed rule

The FDA is currently accepting comments on the proposed rule until April 5, 2022. Visit Regulations.gov and enter docket number FDA-2021-N-0471 in the search box to bring up the proposed rule and click on the ‘comment’ button.  

Visit agr.wa.gov/ProduceSafety for more details about joining the webinar or email cfisk@agr.wa.gov to reach Connie Fisk, manager of the WSDA Produce Safety Program.

Friday, January 28, 2022

WSDA awards $1.5 million in grants for Farm to School efforts

Annette Slonim
WSDA Farm to School 

Last fall, WSDA announced a new grant program to promote and expand farm to school efforts by supporting local food purchasing in schools, child care centers, and summer meal programs statewide. Thanks to an appropriation from the 2021 Legislative Session, WSDA received $5 million in the 2021-23 state budget to launch the new grant and expand WSDA’s Farm to School program 

This month, the agency notified 52 organizations, spanning 23 counties around the state, that they were awarded funds from of the first round of the new Farm to School Purchasing Grants.  A second round of grants will be available for the 2022-2023 school year.

In all, WSDA awarded $1,503,874 in the first round of grants. The recipients include:

  • 38 school programs
    • including 1 tribal school program
  • 13 child care programs
    • including 2 tribal early learning programs
  • 1 summer meal program

The Farm to School Purchasing Grant is meant to support farm to
school efforts by making it possible for schools, childcares, and summer meal programs to increase their procurement of Washington grown foods. Farm to school purchasing makes nutritious, local foods available to more children and expands market opportunities for local farms.   

The grants range from $1,000 to more than $200,000, based on the number of children served by the program or the size of the nutrition program.  The grant is administered in partnership with Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

You can learn more about the grants at agr.wa.gov/FarmToSchool or by emailing farmtoschool@agr.wa.gov

The grant program contributes to WSDA’s Focus on Food Initiative, which focuses on strengthening Washington’s food system at the regional level and ensuring safe, nutritious food is effectively produced and distributed throughout our state.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Veterinary Shortage Areas Designated in WA

Dr. Amber Itle
Washington Interim State Veterinarian

Are you having trouble finding a veterinarian to work on your livestock?  Is your veterinarian getting ready to retire and unable to find another veterinarian to provide service in your area? In the last year, the Washington State Veterinarian’s Office has been hearing increasing concerns about a shortage of food animal and livestock veterinarians in our state.

In response, the state vet’s office successfully nominated for inclusion four veterinary shortage areas in our state, opening the door for veterinarians to take advantage of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) and the Veterinary Services Grant Program, also a USDA initiative. 

The shortage areas identified include Clallam, Adams, Franklin, Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla counties.  

The VMLRP helps qualified veterinarians offset up to $25,000 of student loan debt per year in return for their service in certain high-priority veterinary shortage situations. The shortage area designation also allows veterinary practices to apply for funds to expand service capability and capacity (i.e., obtain new mobile units, purchase ultrasound equipment, etc).  

For veterinarians interested in the loan repayment program, the application period is from February 1, 2022 through April 15, 2022.  

More information about both programs can be found at nifra.usda.gov or by emailing the USDA programs directly at VMLRP@usda.gov or VSGP@usda.gov

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Save the date for SoilCon, the soil health conference

SoilCon, a conference about soil health and the latest research on soil, is coming next month during Washington Soil Health Week.  

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 study soil health in our state and explore ways to improve it.

Soil health focuses on how well a soil system supports plants, animals, and people. It also recognizes the living nature of soils and the importance of soil microorganisms. 

SoilCon is a free, virtual event and will be held on Tuesday, February 22 and Wednesday, February 23 from 8 a.m. to noon each day. The theme this year is “From Global to Local: Scaled Soil Health Parameters.” 

Visit the SoilCon website to register for the conference or view the complete agenda. 

Topics covered at this year’s conference will include:

  • Global soil challenges.
  • How to interpret soil health tests.
  • The cost and savings growers experience when implementing soil health practices.
  • What role soil microbes do (or don’t!) play in soil health and farm productivity. 

Growers, agricultural professionals, soil enthusiasts, and soil scientists are all invited to attend.

Speakers will include professors from WSU and from universities around the country, as well as graduate students and postdocs providing short, lightning talks. 

Join us at the conference and learn more about soil health in Washington state. Visit agr.wa.gov/AgScience to find our soil health page. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

WSDA to launch ‘carcass management preparedness’ training

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications 

Animal disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and technological emergencies threaten animal agricultural production in the United States. The potential impact on Washington’s economy from a disease outbreak in animal agriculture operations could be devastating. 

But a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could help WSDA be better prepared.

Recently, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program (NADPRP) awarded WSDA $194,366 to launch the Carcass Management Preparedness Train the Trainer program. 

Preparing for and responding to foreign animal diseases (FADs) are critical actions to safeguard the nation’s animal health, food system, public health, environment, and economy. WSDA is the lead state agency in responding to domestic animal disease emergencies in Washington state. We work with federal, state, and local government agencies, educational institutions, industry organizations and animal producers to ensure adequate preparation.

 If euthanizing is required due to FAD, proper carcass management is a critical tool to contain an outbreak and maintain food security. 

In Washington state alone, thousands of large animals, mostly dairy and beef cows, died in the winter of 2019 due to extreme blizzard conditions, and many died in the summer of 2021 due to extreme heat conditions. While not a FAD outbreak, those two events highlighted several gaps in Washington state’s ability to respond to emergency carcass management needs in the event of a FAD:

  • Lack of comprehensive emergency mortality management plans at livestock operations.
  • There a limited availability of subject matter experts have who understand Washington’s incident command structure ,to provide technical assistance to livestock owners.

WSDA will work in partnership with Washington State University (WSU) to develop the Carcass Management Preparedness Train the Trainer Programs for Animal Agriculture Sector Responders in the Northwest.” 

APHIS provided $7.6 million for 36 projects across the country that are focused on (1) developing vaccination plans for FAD outbreaks, (2) supporting animal movement decisions in an FAD outbreak, or (3) delivering outreach and education on animal disease preparedness and response topics to targeted audiences.

The WSDA and WSU training will include multi-day demonstrations on mortality management, composting, above ground burial, and the use of grinding equipment. The project is developing guidance documents, best management practices, and a training framework. Materials will be available on a centralized mortality management resource public webpage to help all livestock agricultural professionals.

The target audience for the training, educational resources, and mapping tools include state and federal animal health officials, local emergency managers, veterinarians, extension agents, and other ag sector responders. Developing this cadre of subject matter experts will prepare Washington to respond and strengthen outreach and education on animal disease prevention, preparedness, and response. 

Officials are currently in the process of developing a training plan, including the dates, times, and locations of the trainings, expected to roll out this spring. For more information on the program, contact interim state veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle or WSDA’s Emergency Management program manager Erin Coyle. You can also visit our webpages for Animals Services or Emergency Management

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Local food system infrastructure: What’s needed and how WSDA is preparing to help

When a farmer who runs a small or mid-scale operation wants to sell a value added-product locally— whether it’s berries frozen during peak season, sliced and bagged carrots, milled or malted grains, or simply fresh produce packed for wholesale—they face a unique challenge: accessing food supply chain infrastructure that’s right-scaled for them.

To move their products to market, farms and local food producers need licensed food processing spaces, processing equipment, storage (including cold, dry, frozen, and refrigerated), transportation (especially refrigerated), and other infrastructure. The problem: most of the infrastructure currently in place is scaled for large quantities of product destined for national and international markets, making it unusable for small and mid-scale farming operations. 

Jarred products.
These gaps in our local food supply chain are a key reason it can be difficult to connect local producers and local consumers. They can also hinder the growth and economic viability of local food and agriculture businesses. The pandemic revealed that these gaps stretch across the country; vulnerabilities in the U.S. food system highlight the need for strong local food systems that can contribute to the overall resilience of our food supply. 

For these reasons, WSDA is preparing to award Local Food System Infrastructure and Market Access Grants in the coming year. The grant program’s purpose is to improve food supply chain infrastructure and market access for farms, food processors, and food distributors, with an emphasis on women, minority, and small business owners. 

Washington’s current food processing infrastructure

The processing and supply chain infrastructure needed to make farm products locally available depends on the specific product and the buyer’s needs. Farmers may need to jar preserves to retail at a farmers’ market or specialty food store. A farm may need individual quick freeze (IQF) equipment to freeze fruits and vegetables for school districts and other institutions to use during the winter months, when they need frozen produce most. Processors need equipment to mill or malt grains, package them, and sell to grocery stores, bakeries, brewers, and distillers. Farms may need upgraded on-farm infrastructure to wash, pack, and deliver produce to food banks or restaurant and food service kitchens. And the list goes on. 

Packaged carrots.

Many buyers, especially institutions such school districts, hospitals, or corporate food service accounts, typically purchase minimally processed foods—foods that are cleaned, cut, and ready to use. Lacking the infrastructure to create these products is a significant barrier to expansion for small farms.

For the past four decades our food system trended towards consolidation of food processing, storage, and transportation to make them efficient on a grander scale. Though highly efficient, these systems are inaccessible to smaller operations. The trend has led to lack of investment in regionally scaled infrastructure, including the near-disappearance of co-packers that help small farms develop and process value-added products. Making this infrastructure obtainable is essential to closing the local supply chain loop.

Small-Scale Food Infrastructure in Action

Some farms and food hubs have developed innovative approaches, working together to help fill the gap. Cloud Mountain Farm Center, which is located near Bellingham and serves as an aggregation center for farms in the area, invested in cold food processing equipment and a WSDA-certified processing room more than five years ago. 

Director Elizabeth Hayes says the setup allows small farms to expand into minimally processed cold foods. Currently, three farms regularly use the equipment and another three to five farms use it for special projects each season. Products include cut greens, sliced and bagged carrot coins, kimchi, salsa, and other goods. One farm hosts a dehydrator in the space to dry alliums and Basqe peppers. Farms can also rent cold storage space for their goods.

LINC Malt, a project of LINC Foods, a worker- and farmer-owned food hub based in Spokane, provides small grain producers in the Inland Northwest with malting services to transform their grains into a regionally unique product they can sell to brewers and distillers. Malting is a complex process that involves soaking grains, allowing them to germinate, then drying and toasting them at just the right time. Because the expense and expertise required to run such an operation are far beyond the scope of most growers, this operation opens up markets that would otherwise remain closed to many of Washington’s grain producers.

Brian Estes, partnership director, says LINC’s malting operation produces between 300 and 330 tons of finished malt for six to eight regional growers each year. Since they started the operation in 2016, they have worked with 60-70 brewers and distillers, primarily located in Washington and Oregon. 

These are just two examples of the ways that investments in infrastructure and collaborative approaches create opportunities for individual farms and food businesses and benefit the local food economy.

Infrastructure and Market Access Grants

The cost of developing these systems is far too high for an individual small farm to shoulder alone. But with the help of grants, such as forthcoming WSDA Local Food Infrastructure, Supply Chain, and Market Access Grants, farmers and farming communities can put systems in place that make sense for small and mid-scale farms across Washington State. 

These infrastructure grants are possible because the legislature allocated a total of $17 million to strengthen Washington’s food system and develop small businesses. The grants will include two funds:

  • $8 million for local food system infrastructure and market access grants, prioritized for women, minority, and small business owners.
  • $9 million to improve food supply chain infrastructure and market access for farms, food processors, and food distributors.

WSDA is pleased to support food infrastructure and access projects through these awards. Right now, WSDA Regional Markets Program is gathering input via the Input Survey: WSDA Local Food Infrastructure, Supply Chain and Market Access Grants. Please take the survey and help shape the design of these important grants.