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 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 for more details about joining the webinar or email 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 or by emailing

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 or by emailing the USDA programs directly at or

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 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. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

WSDA advises ag industry to prepare for flooding

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications 

Aerial photograph of flooding in Washington state.
Washington has seen its fair share of wintry weather conditions in recent weeks. Now with warmer temps projected, weather experts forecast significant flooding in areas of Washington. With spring just months away, it is never too late to prepare for more foul weather to come. 

Cold weather and severe storms can affect both animal and human health. When it comes to livestock care, remember that wind chill and prolonged cold increases an animal's need for shelter, food, and water. 

Severe weather and flooding events such as Washington has seen recently have the potential to cause catastrophic loss of life and property, as well as financial, crop, and environmental damage to local communities. Animals may be displaced and need temporary sheltering, feeding, and care. They may also be injured or diseased and need veterinary attention. 

With the forecast for flooding in mind, be sure to check out our 10 tips for flood preparation. When flooding has subsided, remove wet hay from barns as soon as possible to prevent spontaneous hay combustion. 

For additional resources and to stay up-to-date on flooding, storms and other emergency or disaster events, visit:

For overall disaster prep: 

For pets and livestock:
Disaster Prep  and county emergency management:
Prep for veterinarians:
Report damage to farms, crops, or livestock to your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Office (USDA FSA). The USDA FSA manages several disaster assistance programs for farmers and ranchers.