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Inside Olympia — Ag Update

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We kick off our fall season with an update on farming in Washington, interviewing two officials from the WA State Department of Agriculture: State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle, and Ignacio Marquez, the WSDA’s Yakima-based lead for working with the ag community in Central and Eastern Washington. 

Dr. Itle’s focus is on identifying, containing and eradicating animal diseases in Washington state, and it’s more than a full-time job. One current outbreak that’s causing a lot of concern — for the state department of agriculture, for ag businesses, and for the many Washingtonians who own backyard chickens or ducks — is Avian Bird Flu. First detected in February, the current outbreak already far surpasses the 2015 outbreak, and WSDA officials think they’ll be fighting it throughout the fall and perhaps for years.  

The COVID pandemic has increased public understanding of the way diseases can spread, and particularly how they can become “zoonotic”: spread from animals to humans, and vice-versa. In a shrinking world, it’s thought that the battle against shared viruses may become more commonplace. 

COVID impacted state agriculture in a big way, according to Ignacio Marquez. The WSDA worked closely with farm producers on the first problem: keeping workers safe during an easily spread pandemic.  

Since then, other pandemic-related problems have arisen, like supply chain problems, cost of fuel and other farming necessities, and slowdowns at ports. These have had a major impact in Washington, one of the most trade-dependant states.  

In addition, about the same time COVID hit, so did intense summer heat and wildfires. Marquez says it’s in the nature of farmers to adapt — but lately they’ve had more than the usual challenges to adapt to.