Washington is a powerhouse agriculture state, and the Tri-City region is a big reason why.
In 2013, Washington farmers produced a record $10.2 billion worth of agriculture products, according to the latest statistics from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. It’s the third year in a row that Washington’s agricultural production has set record highs.
Several of the state’s largest crops are also top crops in the Tri-Cities, like apples, potatoes, grapes and hay. Benton and Franklin counties are among the top 10 counties in the state for both agricultural and food processing production.
All this is good news. But as every farmer knows, there are also challenges facing the agriculture industry. At the Washington State Department of Agriculture, our job is to help farmers meet those challenges.
Our response to the recent detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza in our state is one example. In early December, veterinarians in our Animal Services Division learned this virus, deadly to poultry, had been discovered just across Washington’s border in British Columbia. Immediately, we alerted poultry owners across the state.
While our initial surveillance efforts focused on Whatcom County, we soon found that avian influenza in Washington follows the migratory paths of wild waterfowl.
One of the first places to be affected was the Tri-Cities, where two backyard flocks in Benton County were found to be infected with the virus. WSDA partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in sending teams of veterinarians and support staff into the area, visiting more than 800 homes and testing birds from nearly 80 flocks.
The team continued this intensive effort for two weeks to ensure that poultry owners were aware of the disease risks, learned how to protect their birds, and that the virus had not spread beyond these two flock locations.
Protecting the regions crops from invasive species is another one of our missions. In another partnership with the USDA, we worked with the Washington State Patrol to set up highway checkpoints on Interstate 82 to stop trucks entering the Tri-Cities region and inspect them for invasive pests that could be hitching a ride on their cargo.
Supporting other important crops, such as horticulture and the tree fruit industry, prompted a project from WSDA’s Plant Protection Division. The agency expects to complete construction of a new, larger greenhouse this year at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center in Prosser. This new and improved greenhouse will give WSDA the ability to test registered mother trees for fruit tree viruses most of the year.
In addition to inspecting nursery stock for harmful pests, we also conduct export inspections during shipping season, helping to support Washington’s reputation for healthy, pest-free plants. We work closely with WSU staff at its Clean Plant Center Northwest in Prosser to keep grapes, apples and other crops pest and virus free with “clean” vines and other plant materials.
Often using local workers as trappers, our Pest Program traps for pests such as gypsy moth and apple maggot flies, which would be a serious problem for growers if they ever gained a foothold. This work is another way we try to support our state’s reputation for quality produce.
WSDA works directly with growers to support specific commodities and has representatives on all of the state’s 23 commodity commissions, including the Blueberry Commission in Eltopia and the Alfalfa Seed Commission in Kennewick. Our folks on the commissions lend their expertise on specific issues and ensure we’re in tune with the needs of the growers and agriculture companies.
WSDA has even provided crop mapping data for emergency management personnel for Hanford accident exercises to help determine the potential risk to our food supply.
As ever, our goal here at the WSDA is to be an agency that responds to the needs of our customers in agriculture and the citizens of this state.