Friday, December 22, 2023

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

Dr. Amber Itle
Washington State Veterinarian

Mother and daughter reindeer duo take a nap at the
Leavenworth Reindeer Farm in Leavenworth,
Not all elves make toys, some take care of Santa’s team of reindeer. Santa’s head herds-elf, Ming Ming, 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. 

Ming Ming 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, he 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. Ben Smith met with Ming Ming to examine the reindeer, check his paperwork, and review his on farm and travel biosecurity plans. Ranger Rick stopped the movement as the package hauler crossed the Canadian border and determined that all  pertinent documents were correct.

Santa’s Top 10 Biosecurity 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 and perform annual exams 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. Steer clear of migrating waterfowl that might be carrying avian influenza.
  8. Clean and disinfect your sleigh and boots between rooftops, states, and 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. 

The herd eats a snack at Leavenworth Reindeer
Farm in Leavenworth, Washington. 
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 19, 2023

Ofelio Borges Receives Latino Leadership Award for Contributions to Washington's Tree Fruit Industry

Ofelio Borges, Technical Services and Education Program manager at Washington State Department of Agriculture, was honored with the prestigious Latino Leadership Award from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association (WSTFA). The award, presented during the association's annual meeting in Kennewick on Dec. 5, recognizes outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the Hispanic community in Washington's tree fruit industry. 

Born in Hidalgo, Mexico, Ofelio Borges has dedicated 35 years to the Washington tree fruit industry, making him a highly respected figure. His extensive knowledge and experience have earned him the admiration and respect of his peers. As a program manager for technical services and education, Borges has been instrumental in developing and implementing pesticide training programs in Washington. One of his notable achievements includes the creation of the Worker Protection Standard Train the Trainer program, which has trained hundreds of trainers across the state.

Jacqui Gordon N., Director of Training, Education, and Member Services at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, speaks highly of Ofelio Borges' dedication and passion for his work. She says, "His professional ethics are contagious, his desire to grow and above all, to help others grow is admirable."

In addition to his role at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Borges also oversees the Farmworker Education Program, ensuring that farmworkers receive the necessary training and support for their safety and success. His commitment to the well-being of farmworkers and his extensive experience in safety issues related to agriculture have made him an invaluable asset to the industry.

The Latino Leadership Award acknowledges Ofelio Borges' remarkable contributions and serves as a testament to his unwavering dedication to the Hispanic community in Washington's tree fruit industry. His achievements and impact continue to inspire others, and his commitment to excellence sets a high standard for future leaders in the field.

Monday, December 18, 2023

CSI meets agriculture: WSDA's pathology lab leads next-gen pest detection

Telissa Wilson
WSDA Plant Pathology and Molecular Diagnostics Lab

Northern giant hornets in vials awaiting testing.
Did you know WSDA’s Plant Pathology & Molecular Diagnostics Lab (PPMDL) uses cutting-edge molecular tools to detect unwanted pests and pathogens? Our PPMDL lab runs tests and uses equipment that many of you have probably seen on CSI or heard about in recent years due to COVID-19. PPMDL tests a wide variety of materials and runs an even wider array of tests, all with the shared goal of finding pests early and preventing them from being established. 

Like a forensic lab, PPMDL maintains highly trained staff, follows strict quality control measures, contributes to research and development of detection tools, and often collaborates with a wide array of organizations. Below is a snapshot of some recent work that showcases PPMDL projects straight out of a CSI episode.

Haplotyping invasive weeds

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between species - whether it is a weedy plant or an invasive insect. Is this species a crime suspect or victim? Haplotyping compares genetic information among different samples to better understand how closely the samples are related - whether it is a native species or a wolf in sheep's clothing. 

Enter suspect number 1:  the highly invasive, aquatic grass Phragmites australis. Because the different subspecies of Phragmites grass are so difficult to tell apart visually, their haplotypes are used to assign them a native or non-native status, which is needed to guide treatment plans. 

For this work, PPMDL staff first extract DNA from submitted leaf samples. Then staff use a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to copy the DNA of very specific regions- regions that have been empirically determined to be good markers for haplotyping in a given species. The last step requires sequencing of the resulting PCR product so the sample haplotypes can be compared against a database of known haplotypes. In the case of Phragmites australis, haplotyping has allowed wetland managers across multiple agencies to preserve their native grass stands and only destroy the invaders. In our CSI analogy, you could say that haplotyping ensures that only the true perpetrator - Phragmites australis – does time for the crime. 

Forensic swabbing for trace DNA

Forensic swabbing can detect
where a pest has been. 
One of the biggest challenges in preventing the establishment of an invasive species is detecting the pest very soon after it is introduced. Sometimes WSDA receives reports of suspected invasive species, but the specimen was not collected and a determination cannot be made if a photo was provided. But what if you didn’t need a specimen – or even a photo – to confirm that a pest had been at a particular location?

You have probably seen shows where crime scenes are swabbed for the presence of DNA left behind on surfaces. These swabs are then shipped to a forensic lab, where scientists extract DNA and perform various molecular tests to analyze the sample. Even though forensic scientists have been utilizing trace DNA for decades to confirm presence at a crime scene, using trace DNA to detect agricultural pests is in its infancy. 


Our pathology lab is changing that. PPMDL has been using swabs to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) left behind by two invasive insects – the spotted lantern fly (SLF) and the northern giant hornet (NGH). Once validated, these assays can confirm the presence of SLF and NGH at sites where a physical sample cannot be collected and early on before pest density is high enough to use alternative survey methods.

Pathogen detection

An exponential curve corresponds
to positive detection in a qPCR test
When someone passes away and the cause of death is unknown, forensic scientists may test for the presence of certain pathogens. PPMDL uses these same molecular methods to test for plant pathogens that threaten our state’s numerous agricultural resources. Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) is a highly specific and sensitive method that PPMDL routinely uses. In fact, PPMDL ran over 2,500 qPCR tests for plant pathogens alone in 2022! These test results help clear exports for trade, certify growing areas free of pests, and help prevent the establishment of high-risk pests through early detection surveys. 

DNA analysis of fecal samples

PPMDL conducts fecal analysis
to determine hornets' diet
One of the strangest-sounding projects that PPMDL has taken on recently involved extracting DNA from giant hornet fecal pellets to discover what the larvae were being fed here in Washington. To do this, PPMDL scraped fecal pellets from inside combs of the four nests that the WSDA Pest Program eradicated. They then extracted the total DNA, which theoretically contains traces of DNA from each organism that was fed to the larval hornet. Next, PPMDL used PCR to amplify a universal genetic segment (called the COI barcoding region) found in all insects and animals. Using advanced molecular magic (aka indexed metabarcoding) PPMDL was able to obtain thousands of genetic sequences that could be correlated to specific prey species. This work allowed researchers to see what NGH has been eating in Whatcom County and how that contrasts with diets in its native habitats. 

What did we find? Well, many folks have heard that northern giant hornets are a major threat to honey bees, but many other pollinators were also on their menu. PPMDL also found that bald-faced hornets made up a majority of the sequences obtained across all nests. Check out this "Wings menu" our Communications folks put together showing some of what they were eating. 

fake menu of what hornets eat

Learn more: 

Friday, December 1, 2023

Uncovering the mystery of canine respiratory disease in Washington

Dr. Amber Itle Washington State Veterinarian
Dr. Minden Buswell Reserve Veterinary Corp Coordinator

I just got back from a trip to the east coast to visit my family and we all came home with a ‘cold’.  During the holidays, we all come indoors, congregate (under sometimes stressful conditions) and share holiday cheer and illness alike. Respiratory disease isn’t uncommon in humans, and it certainly isn’t uncommon in our furry friends either, especially this time of year. My sister is a small animal practitioner and the first thing she asked me over Thanksgiving was, “what is going on with this atypical respiratory illness in dogs?”  She wasn’t sure she had seen anything unusual but has heard that other veterinarians are seeing an uptick in a more harsh or prolonged respiratory disease She wanted to know how concerned she should be. 

At the Washington State Veterinarian’s office, we require veterinarians to report new, emerging diseases or diseases with high morbidity and mortality so we can monitor disease trends across the state. Each year, WSDA gets reports of isolated respiratory outbreaks in localized communities or counties, in boarding facilities and kennels. However, the headlines and social media have us all concerned about the claim that there is a mysterious canine respiratory disease sweeping the nation. Certainly, after COVID-19, we are all acutely aware that global pandemics with new, emerging diseases can happen in humans and animals alike and we shouldn’t ignore indicators that suggest that something new and novel could be impacting our canine population. Fortunately, the current illness of concern has a high recovery rate with very few mortalities reported and there is no indication of a public health risk. 

As the Washington State Veterinarian, I want to provide full transparency about what we know, what we need to understand more and what we can do in the meantime.

What do we know about canine respiratory disease?

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), sometimes called “kennel cough” has been characterized for decades. CIRDC is a highly contagious multifactorial disease and is often the result of concurrent infections with viral and bacterial agents. Viruses are common in dogs (canine adenovirus 2, canine distemper virus, canine herpesvirus 1, canine influenza virus (subtypes H3N8 and H3N2), canine respiratory coronavirus, and canine parainfluenza virus) but sometimes the syndrome can be complicated by secondary bacterial infections (Bordetella bronchiseptica, Streptococcus zooepidemicus, Mycoplasma sp.) resulting in pneumonia.

What are the clinical signs of CIRDC?

CIRDC is characterized by acute or chronic inflammation of the trachea and bronchial airways resulting in clinical signs such as harsh, dry coughing fits, retching and gagging and possible partial anorexia. Some dogs may develop progressing pneumonia. Dogs with pneumonia present with more severe clinical signs such as lethargy, inappetence (lack of appetite), fever, nasal discharge, and respiratory distress at rest. This would be considered typical of what we would expect to see.  

Is a chronic cough a sign of new or atypical disease? 

Cough is a clinical sign that can be triggered by infection, be it bacterial or viral, and often persists even after the infection is over due to inflammation in the airway.  Even after treatment, a cough can persist for weeks even after the virus or bacterial infection has been cleared. Cough can also be caused by other underlying conditions such as allergies, heartworm infection, heart failure, fungal infections and so on.  It is important to work with your veterinarian to rule out other causes. Regular visits and examinations by a veterinarian can help identify individual risk factors especially in older animals. 

What are the risk factors associated with developing the atypical respiratory disease?   

Risk factors for all canine respiratory diseases include 1) elderly dogs and puppies due to age related immunosuppression  2) unvaccinated dogs or dogs that aren’t up to date on vaccines  3) dogs in kennels, doggie daycares or boarding facilities   4) dogs that frequently congregate with other dogs with unknown vaccination or travel history 5) brachiocephalic breeds (dogs with shortened skull bones, giving the face and nose a pushed in appearance)  6) stress (travel, boarding, etc.)

How do I know if my dog has the atypical or mystery respiratory disease?

It is really important to see your veterinarian and pursue diagnostics as early as possible. There are several respiratory diagnostic tests available. However, timing and type of sampling is key to be able to isolate the microorganism(s) responsible for the illness. Some tests, like PCR,  only detect viral particles early in the disease process. That means that if you wait too long to do diagnostics, you may get false negative results or that the dog is no longer shedding the organism. 

If a secondary bacterial infection is suspected, then doing a culture prior to administering antibiotics is key to identifying the infectious agent and determining the right antibiotic that the organism is susceptible to. This improves treatment outcomes and prevents the risk of creating superbugs that no longer respond to antibiotics.  

What does it mean if my dog is not responding to treatment?

If your dog is not responding to antibiotics or has a prolonged disease syndrome, it may be an atypical case. However, keep in mind that not all dogs with respiratory disease need antibiotics. Just like COVID-19 or a cold in humans, viral respiratory illness cannot be treated with antimicrobials and your veterinarian may prescribe cough suppressants and anti-inflammatories instead. When we talk about dogs not being responsive to normal antimicrobial therapy, that may be because viruses don’t respond to antibiotics and clinical signs like a cough, can take weeks to resolve. Dogs that don’t respond to therapy and succumb to disease are a real concern. At this point in time, reports indicate low mortality due to this illness of concern. However, any dog that dies should be submitted to a diagnostic laboratory, such as the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University for a necropsy (animal autopsy) to determine the cause of death.

How do I know if my dog has a common form of CIRDC rather than something new? 

As we try to untangle whether we are dealing with a new or atypical strain of this canine illness, we are asking veterinarians to collect more data on dogs with 1) chronic mild-moderate tracheobronchitis with a prolonged duration (6-8 weeks or longer) that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics, 2) Chronic pneumonia that is minimally or not responsive to antibiotics, or 3) acute pneumonia that rapidly becomes severe and often leads to death in as little as 24-36 hours. Veterinarians should report cases here: - WSDA Reportable Animal Disease Form and select Unexplained increase in dead or diseased animals.”

Collecting this data will help us develop a case definition so we can better track trends over time.  If we are dealing with a new or novel strain, we would expect the canine population to have no or little resistance to the illness and we could expect to see widespread outbreaks of disease through our canine populations.  We might also expect to see higher reports of mortality in vulnerable, immunocompromised populations. 

How many reports of atypical respiratory disease has the WSDA received?

Since August 2023, a total of 16 reports from veterinarians have been submitted to the Washington State Department of Agriculture concerning atypical Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC).  Of those 16 reports, two cases have met what WA considers an atypical CIRDC case. The two confirmed cases are recovering. WSDA is still collecting more information on the other 14 reports to ensure we provide accurate information.

Are the cases regionally distributed?

At this time, half of the cases reported in the state are in King County, which may be consistent with urban population distribution. We did have an outbreak reported in a single animal rescue in Spokane County.  Otherwise, we have not been able to link cases to each other.


Number of Reports















Are laboratories seeing an uptick in cases?

WSDA works very closely with Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Washington State University (WSU-WADDL) to be sure we are tracking submissions and diagnostics. At this time, WSU WADDL has not reported an uptick in case submissions to the laboratory.  Case reports have identified various causes with no linking cause between cases. It is important to remember that there are many underlying causes of canine respiratory disease. We are continuing to encourage diagnostics to help us better understand trends. 

Have dogs been tested for SARS-COV2 (COVID 19)?

Several laboratories across the United States are working diligently to try to isolate any new pathogen that may be implicated or any correlation with positive COVID 19 households. Although dogs can be susceptible to SARS COV 2, experts reported that so far, all the cases submitted have been negative.

What can I do in the meantime?

1.     1.       Maintain a veterinary-client-patient relationship with annual visits to your veterinarian
2.       Contact you veterinarian immediately if your dog is showing signs of illness
3.       Make sure your pet is fully vaccinated and booster your dog for all canine respiratory diseases                annually
4.       Avoid congregations of dogs, dog parks, boarding facilities, doggie daycare or kennels
5.       Stay away from sick animals or animals with unknown travel or vaccination history
6.       If your dog does get sick, expect laboratory testing to inform best treatment outcomes

In Washington state, we care about our companion animals. Washingtonians have big hearts, compassion for animals and have opened their homes to thousands of rescue dogs in recent years from all over the world. If you have rescued a dog in recent years, please be sure they are up to date on ALL vaccines, in addition to rabies that is required for import. Check your documentation and work with your veterinarian on the best vaccination regimen to protect your dog.  You may think your dog is fully vaccinated or had all the boosters needed, but they may in fact be under vaccinated and extremely vulnerable to disease. Treatment and diagnostics for respiratory disease can be very costly.   We all know that “prevention is better than a cure.” 

If you have any questions, contact WSDA Animal Health Program at (360) 902-1878 or

Additional resources

H5N1 Avian Influenza in a Dog: Ontario, Canada

Canine Respiratory Illness Q&A: Free Webinar (November 30) | Worms & Germs Blog (


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Brussels sprout: Washington's winter gem

 Kim Vaughn

During the reign of the ancient Roman empire, athletes devoured Brussels sprouts because they were seen as symbols of endurance and stability. Because Brussels sprouts became so popular in 13th century Belgium, these little veggies were named after the country's capital, Brussels.

In the colder months, this hearty and nutritious green vegetable takes the stage. This blog will explore the world of growing Brussels sprouts, and creative ways to prepare this nutritious superfood for your holiday meals. 

Growing Brussels sprouts in Washington state

Brussels sprouts can be finicky to grow. They do best in cool weather and are usually planted in mid-summer for a bountiful fall harvest. To determine the optimum planting time in your region, count backwards about 4 months from your expected first frost. Plant in a location where they will get at least 6 hours of direct sun in a rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0‐7.5.

Sow seeds about ½ inch deep 2-3 inches apart. When the plants reach about 6 inches tall, thin rows to be at least 12 inches apart. 

Water 1-1 ½ inches a week and add mulch to keep the soil cool during the hot summer. Be sure not to overwater! Because the plant height reaches 2-3 feet, they may require staking. Use a 10-20-10 fertilizer. Too much nitrogen will result in a lot of leafy growth and not enough sprouts.  

Sprouts mature from the bottom of the stalk upwards. Harvest sprouts from the bottom when they reach about 1 inch in diameter. To encourage the sprouts to mature faster, cut off the top leaves 3 to 4 weeks before harvest. Harvest the entire stalk after the first moderate frost by removing the leaves and storing them unwashed, and hanging upside down in a cool, dry area for up to a month. 

As with any Brassica, aphids, cabbage worms, and many other pests can damage your plant so it’s important to keep your eye on them. Remove any fallen plant debris to prevent mildew. Try companion-planting thyme, or place banana and orange peels around the plants, as a pest deterrent. A mild solution of dish soap and water can help to remove pests. You can get more tips on protecting Brassicas in our Broccoli blog

Varieties of brussels sprouts

In Washington state, Brussels sprouts are usually available from October through March, making them an ideal choice for your holiday meals. Favorite varieties include:

  • Jade Cross
    These small, bright green sprouts are well-suited for cooler climates and boast a mildly sweet, nutty flavor.
  • Long Island Improved
    This classic variety produces medium-sized sprouts that are tender and sweet when cooked.
  • Rubine
    With a deep red hue, this variety adds a striking visual element to any dish while offering a slightly milder flavor.
  • Diablo
    Known for its vivid, dark purple sprouts. 

There are more ways to prepare Brussels sprouts for your holiday meals than just steaming them. Try these delicious options:

  • Roasted Brussels sprouts
    Seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and a touch of balsamic vinegar.
  • Crispy Brussels sprout chips
    Thinly sliced and lightly fried, a nutritious alternative to traditional potato chips.
  • Braised Brussels sprouts
    Slow-cooked in broth or wine, until tender. Often served with complementary ingredients like bacon or pancetta.
  • Brussels sprouts in salads
    Add shaved Brussels sprouts in your next salad to provide a crisp, refreshing bite.

Nutritional information

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service
The vitamins and minerals in Brussels sprouts aid in healing, promote immunity, and support strong bones. One cup of Brussels sprouts provides around 38 calories, 3g of protein, 8g of carbohydrates, and 0.3g of fat. 

Of the 8 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of Brussels sprouts, a little over 3 grams are from fiber. They have a low glycemic index, so they are a good choice for those on a low-carb diet or anyone who is watching their blood sugar. 

Brussels sprouts are a great source of the B-vitamins necessary for cellular energy production, including vitamin B6, thiamine, and folate. They contain 24% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A, which is important for eyes and immunity. 

Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins C and K, providing over 100% of your daily value of each based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Vitamin K is linked to heart health and longevity and is responsible for blood clotting. Brussels sprouts also contain manganese, which helps with metabolizing carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol.

While Brussels sprouts might not be as famous as other vegetables grown in Washington state, they are a winter gem that is deserving of more recognition. As the culinary world continues to rediscover the delights of Brussels sprouts, these cruciferous vegetables offer a delicious reminder that the Washington state's agricultural tapestry is rich and diverse. So, whether you're savoring a plate of crispy roasted Brussels sprouts during your holiday meal, or trying your hand at growing them, you're participating in the growing appreciation of these nutritious and flavorful gems.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Taste Washington Day Celebrates Local Food and Farm Connections

salad cups served in a Washington school

Annual event highlights the bounty and diversity of Washington-grown foods

The 13th annual Taste Washington Day, a joyful celebration of locally grown foods in school cafeterias across Washington state, kicked off this year with great enthusiasm. Representatives from the farm to school program at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) embarked on a special journey to witness firsthand how schools in the Ellensburg School District integrate locally sourced ingredients into their meals.

The first stop on their visit was the Ellensburg High School Central Kitchen. The group had the pleasure of meeting with school nutrition leaders Alexandra Epstein-Solfield, Child Nutrition Director, and Charlotte Green, Nutrition Specialist, and observing the kitchen staff skillfully prepare fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The commitment to providing nutritious and delicious meals to students was evident in the vibrant colors and enticing aromas that filled the kitchen.

Mount Stuart Elementary School was also in the spotlight during Taste Washington Day. Students at this school were treated to a delightful lunch featuring produce from Dagdagan Farm in Wapato, Washington and grass-fed hamburger patties from Green Bow Farm in Ellensburg. Watermelon slices, roasted grey squash (a zucchini-like veggie), and other fresh-made dishes from local producers were enjoyed by the students, who eagerly savored the flavors of their region.

At approximately 12:15 p.m., a moment of excitement filled the cafeteria as students collectively bit into Washington apples, generously donated by Chelan Fresh. The sound of a loud crunch resonated throughout the room, symbolizing the joy and satisfaction that comes from enjoying wholesome, locally grown food.

This year's Taste Washington Day saw an impressive participation of more than 40 schools and nearly 50 farmers and food producers. Taste Washington Day is not just a celebration of farm to school connections, it is also a platform that allows Washington's children to discover and appreciate the bounty and diversity of healthy and delicious foods grown in their home state. It is an opportunity for them to learn about the importance of local agriculture and the positive impact it has on their health and the environment.

For more information about WSDA Farm to School, please visit

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Cantaloupes: Cultivating sweet success in Washington state

 Kim Vaughn

Melons (C. melo) originated in Iran and India around 3000 B.C. and are one of the oldest crops to be domesticated. While not as prominent as some of Washington state's other crops, like apples and cherries, cantaloupe has found its own special place in the heart of the agricultural landscape. In this blog, we'll delve into the world of cantaloupes in Washington, exploring its cultivation, favorite varieties, and its growing popularity in a state dominated by other fruits.

Growing cantaloupes in Washington state

Cantaloupe is a warm-season fruit that typically requires a longer, hotter growing season than the Pacific Northwest provides. However, in the eastern part of Washington, which experiences warmer and drier summers, cantaloupe cultivation has become a niche industry. Regions like the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin have ideal microclimates for growing cantaloupes. Growing cantaloupes in the northwest’s coldest areas though, can be tough. Cooler temperatures and plant diseases like fungi and sudden wilt can cause growers to lose their crops before harvest.

Choose varieties that will mature in 90 days or less. Start seeds indoors in early May and grow multiple plants to ensure pollination. Keep seedlings moist and provide 16-18 hours of light a day. Harden off your seedlings in June before transplanting them into a warm soil bed when nighttime temperatures don’t fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant blooming flowers throughout your row to attract pollinators.

Once transplanted outdoors, use an all-purpose 10-20-20 fertilizer and cover the bed with clear plastic to keep the soil warm. Water 1-2 inches per week. Harvest when the skin has a raised netting look before it starts to turn yellow. Allow the fruit to ripen off the vine for about two days before eating.

Favorite Washington varieties

Washington farmers have embraced a selection of cantaloupe varieties well-suited to the region's unique growing conditions. These suggested varieties mature around 75-80 days.

  • Ha’Ogen and Model melons
    Very sweet, with green flesh and a honeydew flavor.
  • Charentais
    A small French cantaloupe with unrivaled flavor.
  • Honey Rock and Hale’s Best
    Well-known American cantaloupe varieties that are easy to find seeds and seedlings.
  • Ineya
    A small Russian melon, with white flesh and a mild honeydew flavor.
  • Armenian and Metki
    These varieties look like large cucumbers with a mildly sweet flavor.

Nutritional information

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service

Incorporating cantaloupes into your diet can offer various health benefits. A single serving, equivalent to one cup of fresh cantaloupe cubes, provides 53 calories, 6% of your daily fiber intake, approximately 1 gram of protein, and is free from both fat and cholesterol.

Moreover, cantaloupes are a low-carbohydrate fruit, containing 13 grams per one-cup serving. Opting for fruits low in carbohydrates enables you to consume larger portions while effectively managing your blood glucose levels.

Notably, cantaloupes are rich in essential nutrients, offering:

  • 100% of the daily value of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant safeguarding your cells from damage.
  • The entirety of your daily vitamin A requirements, contributing to the health of your eyes, skin, bones, and immune system.
In Washington State, cantaloupes may not take center stage like apples or cherries, but it has quietly carved out a delicious niche in the state's agricultural mosaic. With its unique sweetness, cantaloupes offer a refreshing alternative to the more famous fruits of the region. Whether enjoyed fresh in the warm Washington sun or incorporated into a delightful summer dish, Washington cantaloupes represent a sweet and healthy surprise amidst the apple and cherry orchards, reminding us that diversity in agriculture is a delicious and valuable asset.

Monday, November 13, 2023

WSDA evaluates drought impact on Yakima Basin agriculture


Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of drought events, potentially impacting our environment, including agriculture and water resources. Droughts and extreme weather events can have profound effects on the agricultural economy, leading to reduced crop yields, livestock losses, increased production costs, and disruptions in food supply chains. 

Drought Assessment Tool (DAT)

In 2015, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) conducted an assessment to quantify drought impacts on agricultural revenue. This was after 85% of Washington State experienced “extreme drought status” in August 2015. Based on this assessment, WSDA recommended a clear economic foundation for future analyses. 

To improve understanding of drought impacts, WSDA contracted with the University of California, Merced to develop a drought assessment tool to model agricultural production and water use in agriculturally-dominated watersheds in the state.  

The tool models agricultural production and water use to estimate the economic impacts of drought at the watershed and statewide levels. In the model, WSDA can modify irrigation water, cropland, prices, and yields to evaluate the potential impacts of drought events and policy decisions. 

The DAT was used in a study to evaluate two drought scenarios in the Yakima Basin. The study focuses on irrigators who do not receive their full water supply during drought, also known as proratables. 

The two scenarios modeled are: 

1. 70% of normal irrigation water supply, and 

2. 50% of normal irrigation water supply. 

The two water supply scenarios were selected to evaluate impact mitigation associated with the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan (YBIP) implementation. A primary driver of the YBIP is to increase surface water storage to offset expected losses of snowpack due to climate change. 

One of the YBIP’s goals is to supply proratable water users with 70% of their full water allocation during drought events. The supply scenarios are used to understand the economic benefits of ensuring 70% water supply in water-short years. During the most recent snowpack deficit drought of 2015, the end-of-season allocation to proratable water users was 47%. By comparing 50% and 70% water supply, we can estimate the economic losses that might be avoided if the YBIP goal of 70% water supply is met. 

Model results
Download this infographic.

The two scenarios, 70% and 50% of water supply, were evaluated to understand the potential impacts of drought in the Yakima Basin. The model indicates that reducing water supply results in varying levels of impact on the producer’s revenue, employment, and the region’s economy. 

  • In the 70% water supply scenario:
    • Total producer revenue decreased by 7.3% to 19.4% 
    • $161 million to $424 million decrease 

  • In the 50% water supply scenario:
    • Total producer revenue decreased by 18.1% to 30.4% 
    • $397 million to $668 million decrease 

The model results estimate significantly higher impacts on producer revenue at 50% water supply as compared to 70% water supply. For example, at 70% water supply apple producers experienced revenue losses between 4% and 18% whereas at 50% water supply, apple producers experienced losses in revenue between 10% and 27%.

The losses associated with reducing water supply to 50% are significant. For example, grape producers are projected to lose between 77% to 88% in revenue. A 50% water supply scenario could result in losses (to the whole economy) as high as $1.1 billion in revenue and up to 10,309 jobs.


The YBIP aims to increase surface water storage and enhance water conservation to improve drought resiliency. One of the YBIP’s goals is to provide proratable water users with a 70% water supply during drought events. 

To understand the potential impact of reaching the YBIP’s water supply goals, WSDA employed the DAT model to compare the impacts of 50% and 70% water supply scenarios. 

Estimated losses at 50% water supply are between 58% and 146% higher than estimated losses at 70% water supply. These results indicate that reaching the YBIP’s goal to ensure 70% water supply during drought events could reduce economic losses by up to $406 million and retain over 3,700 jobs reliant on agriculture. Implementing the YBIP could reduce total economic losses by 11% across all metrics. 

The reduction in losses estimated through these scenarios demonstrates the value of the investments made by local, state, and federal governments. If the YBIP water supply projects are not implemented, additional losses to revenue, value-added, and jobs are anticipated. With drought events expected to increase in frequency and severity under future climate scenarios, integrated water management solutions are needed to enhance drought resiliency. The YBIP and similar strategies in other basins have the potential to significantly reduce drought impacts to the agricultural economy. 

Download the full report here

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Cauliflower: A cruciferous crop worth celebrating

Kim Vaughn

Washington State, known for its fertile soil and diverse agricultural landscape, has gained recognition for a wide range of crops. Among these, cauliflower stands as a versatile and nutritious vegetable that thrives in the state's favorable growing conditions. In this blog, we'll delve into the world of cauliflower, exploring its cultivation, unique attributes, as well as its nutritional value and why it's a favored choice in low-carb diets.

Cauliflower growing requirements

Cauliflower thrives in cool weather when daytime temperatures are between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. It tends to be more sensitive to heat than its cousin broccoli. It does best when planted mid-summer for a fall harvest. 

Brassicas, in general, grow best in fertile, well-drained soils. The pH should be between 6-7 to discourage clubroot disease and maximize nutrient uptake. An 8-16-16 fertilizer will help cauliflower thrive. Space your plants 24” apart with 30” between rows. Gathering and tying the leaves when the head starts to form helps ensure the crop will be white and tender. One to 1½ inches of water a week will suffice. Harvest your crop before the leaves begin to turn yellow and before the buds start to separate. The plant will continue to produce offshoots if leaves are still present.

The biggest pest problem with cauliflower, and all brassicas, are those pesky cabbage worms. You can read more about them in our broccoli blog. Other challenging pests include cabbage root maggot, aphids, flea beetles, blackleg black rot, clubroot, and yellows. 

Favorite Washington varieties

Washington's cauliflower fields flourish with a variety of cauliflower types, each offering its unique taste and texture. Favorite varieties grown by Washington farmers include:

  • Snowball 
    A favorite with Washington farmers, Snowball is known for its compact, snowy-white curds and is widely grown in the state.
    Matures in about 50-60 days.
  • Synergy F1 
    Synergy forms a dense, firm head and performs well in the fall.
    Matures in about 75 days.
  • Bishop F1
    An outstanding vigorous late-season variety that forms bright white heads.
    Matures in about 75-80 days.

Unique varieties

  • Cheddar
    This vibrant orange cauliflower variety not only catches the eye but also offers a slightly nutty flavor, adding a pop of color to dishes.
  • Purple
    The purple cauliflower variety is rich in antioxidants, making it not only visually striking but also a healthy addition to any meal.
  • Romanesco
    With its mesmerizing fractal-shaped florets, Romanesco cauliflower is a favorite among chefs for its unique appearance and nutty flavor.
  • Green
    Green cauliflower, sometimes referred to as "Broccoflower," is a cross between cauliflower and broccoli, offering a milder, slightly sweeter taste.

Nutritional information

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service 
Good news for those following low-carb, ketogenic, and Paleo diets. Cauliflower has become popular as a substitute for starchier foods like rice and pizza dough. Cauliflower’s versatility as a non-starchy, high fiber alternative to breads is great whether you eat it raw, roasted, or riced, cauliflower offers a lot of bang for your nutritional buck.

In conclusion, the versatile cauliflower has found a well-deserved home in the rich agricultural landscape of Washington State. This cruciferous crop thrives in the state's favorable growing conditions, thanks to its preference for cool weather and well-drained, fertile soils. 

Moreover, cauliflower's nutritional profile is noteworthy, making it a favorite among those following low-carb diets and a popular choice for health-conscious individuals.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Halloween pumpkins: A festive fall tradition

Kim Vaughn

Washington state comes alive with the spirit of Halloween during the fall season. As autumn settles in, the farmlands transform into a sea of orange as pumpkin patches open their gates to eager visitors. From the coastal regions to the eastern plains, visitors can explore the fields to find the perfect pumpkin, enjoy hayrides, and even get lost in the challenging corn mazes. In this short blog, we'll explore the enchanting world of Halloween pumpkins in Washington State.

Growing pumpkins in Washington state

In Washington, you want to plant your pumpkin seeds in late May to early July. The ideal temperature range for pumpkins is 55-60 degrees. Vines can reach up to 30 feet so allow for ample space. Most pumpkins need 90-120 days to mature. 

A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the pumpkin’s relatives are the cucumber, watermelon, and even the loofa! Pumpkins are native to the Americas and archaeological digs in the southwest and Mexico have unearthed evidence of growing pumpkins dating back to 5,000 B.C. They eventually made their way into European cuisines. 

For making pies and other delectables, you want to look for smaller, rounder varieties that have a sweeter taste and tend to have a thicker flesh.

The best kind of pumpkins for carving are the large field pumpkins. They tend to be stringy, but the seeds can be roasted with a bit of salt for a delicious treat. 

Origin of the Jack-o-lantern

The origin of jack-o'-lanterns is a fascinating journey rooted in ancient Celtic and Irish traditions. The practice can be traced back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrated around 2,000 years ago. Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and the Celts believed it was a time when the boundary between the living and the dead was blurred, with malevolent spirits roaming the earth. To ward off these spirits, the Celts carved frightening faces into turnips and other root vegetables, placing candles or other light sources inside them. These carved vegetables were believed to both protect homes and light the way for the souls of the deceased. The term "jack-o'-lantern" itself originated from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack who was said to have tricked the devil. As the tradition spread, it eventually evolved to the use of pumpkins, which were more readily available in the United States, giving rise to the iconic Halloween decoration we know today.

Pumpkin contest

If you haven’t noticed by now, we love Halloween at WSDA. This year, WSDA held a pumpkin carving contest in partnership with Washington Grown. Carvers entered their pumpkins by posting their photos to social media using the hashtag #WAPumpkinContest, tagged WSDA and WAGrown, then submitted their photos on the WSDA contest website for a chance to win a $250 grocery gift card! This year's winner was Ethan Estalilla for his cool leaf pumpkin (far right photo). Congratulations Ethan!

Halloween season is a time when communities come together to celebrate the beauty and bounty of the fall harvest. From family trips to the pumpkin patch to enjoying pumpkin-spiced treats and participating in traditional carving contests, pumpkins are woven into the very fabric of the autumn tapestry. So, whether you're an enthusiast for all things pumpkin or simply seeking to embrace the charm of fall, pumpkin culture has something for everyone.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The crisp charm of Washington apples

Kim Vaughn

Washington state, with its diverse climate, fertile soil, and dedicated orchardists, is renowned as the "Apple State." In this blog, we'll explore the rich history and delightful diversity of apples in Washington, as well as some interesting facts and reasons why these apples are so special.

Washington's apple legacy

Washington's love affair with apples began in the 1820s when the first orchard was planted, and pioneers and settlers recognized the region's potential for apple cultivation. There are five main growing regions in the state. They are:
  1. Okanogan
  2. Lake Chelan
  3. Wenatchee Valley
  4. Columbia Basin
  5. Yakima Valley
Today, there are over 175,000 acres of apple orchards, averaging around 100 acres in size, although some orchards are as big as 5,000 acres. It takes an estimated 40,000 pickers to harvest all of Washington’s apples. Washington’s apples are shipped to over 60 countries and according to the Washington Apple Commission is the largest apple-producing state in the United States! 

A bounty of varieties

Washington’s apple orchards are home to more than 2,000 apple varieties, but a few have gained international acclaim. The most famous include:
  • Red Delicious: Known for its iconic, bright red color and sweet, juicy flesh, the Red Delicious is one of the most recognized apples in the world.
  • Gala: With its crisp texture and a unique combination of sweet and slightly tart flavors, Gala apples are a popular choice for fresh snacking.
  • Honeycrisp: This apple variety has taken the world by storm with its perfect balance of sweetness, juiciness, and crispness.
  • Granny Smith: Loved for its tartness, this green apple is a go-to for baking, making apple pies, or enjoying as a refreshing snack.
  • Fuji: Originally from Japan but now a Washington favorite, Fuji apples are sweet, crunchy, and perfect for salads or eating fresh.
  • Pink Lady: With its distinctive pink skin and crisp, tart-sweet flavor, Pink Lady apples add a splash of color and zest to any dish.
For top-quality apples suitable for pie-making, cider production, snacking, or essential tree maintenance tips, explore the Washington Apple Commission's website for more details.

The healthier choice

Did you know that eating one large apple provides 20% of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber, 8% of the antioxidant Vitamin C, and 7% of your day’s potassium? All that deliciousness is packed into only 130 calories — with no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol.

The USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend eating two cups of fresh fruit a day. That’s the equivalent of:
  • 2 small apples, or
  • 1 large apple, or
  • 2 cups of sliced or diced apples.

Washington apple pride: Nurturing the nation's best

Washington State's apple orchards are not just a source of economic prosperity, but also a symbol of pride and a source of joy for the locals. These apples have a unique combination of flavor, crispness, and sweetness that sets them apart. Whether you're munching on a Red Delicious while hiking in the Cascades or enjoying a Honeycrisp at a local farmer's market, Washington's apples will leave an unforgettable taste in your mouth. Washington is proud to be the top producer of apples in the country!

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Bird flu returns, flock owners urged to enhance safety measures

Even with the spring and summer-long respite, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is once again on the move as wild birds migrate south to warmer climates. This poses a threat to domestic flocks, making the adoption of enhanced measures of biosecurity crucial in minimizing detections. Biosecurity is the essential practice that attempts to control the introduction and spread of disease.

Since February 2022, HPAI H5N1 has been circulating throughout the United States, with a new domestic backyard detection in King County reported this week by Washington State Department of Agriculture veterinarians.

To protect poultry flocks from accidental exposure to HPAI, biosecurity remains critical. Dr. Amber Itle, the Washington State Veterinarian, urges bird owners to continue taking extra biosecurity measures. She emphasizes that the biggest risk factor to date is direct contact with wild waterfowl, which increases the environmental viral load and the risk of transmission to domestic flocks.

There have also been reports of mammals contracting the virus, most recently in seals. All around the state and surrounding areas, cases of HPAI have been found in wild birds and in domestic flocks in Canada. This means the virus is in the environment. Biosecurity is a critical to protect our flocks.

Enhanced biosecurity not only safeguards flocks but also preserves farms from diseases like HPAI.

“By implementing robust biosecurity protocols, we can mitigate the spread of HPAI and ensure the health and well-being of our poultry industry,” Dr. Itle added.

Additional biosecurity measures include:

  • Separate domestic birds from wild birds
  • Separate domestic poultry from domestic waterfowl
  • Discourage wild birds from coming near your flocks
  • Only feed domestic birds indoors and remove feed at night (when wild birds often feed)
  • Lock up your flock’s feed in containers with lids
  • Remove bird feeders that might attract wild waterfowl
  • Fence off the ponds
  • Cover the chicken yard with netting

Veterinarians urge bird owners to stay vigilant and take the necessary steps to protect your flocks and ultimately the food supply. If detections spread to commercial flocks, the supply of food in our state could be impacted, along with the price for these products.

WSDA reminds flock owners of the domestic sick bird online reporting tool. The online tool complements the existing WSDA sick bird reporting hotline as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool for wild birds. Owners are urged to report sick birds to the state veterinarian’s office and help keep bird flu at bay.

Visit to stay current on bird flu detections and get biosecurity tips.