WSDA Works To Keep Washington Ag Industry Safe, Disease Free

For a state so dependent on agricultural products and Ag trade, the number of people tasked with preventing the introduction of harmful pests and plant diseases may surprise you. The Washington state Department of Agriculture’s WSDA Plant Services Program consists of 11 inspectors statewide. Their responsibilities vary from export inspections for ag products like lumber, hay, flowers, potatoes, tree fruit and more, to controlling or eradicating pest populations like the Japanese beetle. The WSDA said the farming community benefits from the program by being better informed and prepared for areas that have strict export restrictions and quarantines. But the Department said homeowners benefit as well. If a pest becomes established, it will become more costly to control for everyone involved and could require more drastic measures, such as pesticides. 

The WSDA’s Amber Betts said the biggest threats have to do with the culture in which we live. As the frequency and speed of travel increases, hitchhikers like pests and disease become more prevalent. Online plant sales can also pose a serious risk if the plant was from an area where pests are already established.

“To combat that we [hired] an inspector whose main focus is on reaching out to websites and online plant vendors to inform them of our quarantines. He’s also helping websites to put restrictions and filters in place so those high-risk plants can’t be shipped to Washington customers unless they can prove compliance with our quarantines.”

More than $2 billion in Washington Ag exports are certified by the program annually. Washington nurseries also find themselves under the program’s scrutiny. When the Plant Services Program began in the 1890’s there were just 250 nurseries licensed with the state. That number has now grown to over 5,000, with roughly 700 nurseries a year being inspected.

Betts added that while the 11 environmental inspectors are obviously crucial to the program, it primarily takes working relationships with the industry partners who grow and sell the plant life. WSDA is in the process of building a plant certification center in Prosser to help centralize the fight to keep Washington’s Ag safe.​

If you have a story idea for the PNW Ag Network, call (509) 547-1618, or e-mail [email protected]

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