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COVID-19 agriculture regulations present challenges to Washington growers

WSU Extension faculty and staff are working to provide training and resources to Washington’s agriculture industry as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Washington state.

“COVID-19 is affecting the food supply chain,” said Girish Ganjyal, Associate Professor and Extension Food Processing Specialist at Washington State University. “When whole plants shut down, supply distribution is disrupted.”

Many agriculture companies have faced challenges in the past months, Ganjyal said. While some plants have a reserve of supplies, those buffers aren’t always feasible, especially when produce is fresh.

A WSU worker harvests blueberries at a commercial plot during a field trial.
A member of the WSU harvest crew harvests blueberries at a commercial plot during a field trial. WSU Extension is working to help the agricultural industry deal with harvest challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Growers may not have enough time to digest policies that have been developed,” said Faith Critzer, Associate Professor and Produce Safety WSU Extension Specialist.

“We want to help our stakeholders deal with COVID-19,” Critzer said. She encourages growers and others in Washington’s agricultural industries to continue submitting questions.

Supporting stakeholders with WSU Extension programs

As some food production plants close due to COVID-19, Ganjyal said one of the major challenges for many companies is additional costs, such as adding hand-washing stations in the field.

The School of Food Science is applying for grants supporting further work in food safety. Future funding may subsidize additional training and workshops.

Much of the funding for current WSU Extension workshops is obtained from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

A farm worker wearing a mask picks cherries from the top of a cherry tree.
A worker harvests cherries from a commercial orchard in the Columbia Basin.

One of WSU Extension’s largest programs, the Food Safety and Sanitation Workshop typically attracts a large audience from across the Pacific Northwest. Attendees learn about the latest food sanitation and safety issues, and also revisit basic best practices.

The 40th annual workshop, slated for November 10, will take place online and will be free to attend.

“This might actually increase our audience,” Ganjyal said. On June 11, WSU Extension hosted a webinar with berry growers to prepare them for the new rules outlined under Washington’s “Safe Start” guidelines for agricultural businesses.

“At WSU Extension, our mission is to support people, and we are doing everything we can to support them under these circumstances,” Ganjyal said. On June 11, WSU Extension hosted a webinar with berry growers to prepare them for the new rules outlined under Washington’s “Safe Start” guidelines for agricultural businesses.

This webinar, coordinated by Gwen Hoheisel and Chris Benedict of WSU Extension, was a partnership with the Washington Red Raspberry and Blueberry Commissions and was attended by 78 people from across the state. Speakers included Critzer, representatives from the Washington Department of Labor, and members of the berry growing industry.

Benedict made it clear that the agricultural industry has had to adapt to changes in information, rules, and guidelines in a very short timeline.

“The structure of the land grant university allows for a quick response to local, regional, and statewide issues, by utilizing the network of expertise found throughout the WSU system,” Benedict said.

“At WSU Extension, our mission is to support people, and we are doing everything we can to support them under these circumstances,” Ganjyal said.

 

Media Contacts

Lauren Paterson, Content Writer / Editor, 509-335-2960
Girish Ganjyal, Associate Professor & Extension Food Processing Specialist, 509-335-5613
Faith Critzer, Associate Professor & Produce Safety Extension Specialist, 509-786-9203