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Maine Potato Board director frustrated at farm bill process

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at the Maine Potato Board expressed frustration that Congress allowed the 2014 farm bill to expire on Sunday, ending an assortment of programs and putting others on hold until key lawmakers create a replacement bill or suggest an extension of the now defunct law.

Differences between the House and Senate bill were not resolved during negotiations for the 2018 farm bill.

Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said on Monday that it was “too bad” the bill was not completed by the end of the year.

Despite expiration of the 2014 farm bill, programs such as crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program, will continue, as they are either permanently authorized in other laws or funded by appropriators.

Flannery said that while the industry will not be impacted ‘too badly,” by the expiration, there were some features in the bill that affect the industry.

“There were some increases in the new farm bill for research as it relates to potatoes,” said Flannery. “That would have been beneficial to growers and the industry. Now, that does not happen until the new farm bill. I hope that everything stays on track.”

Flannery said he hopes that none of the funding for such research disappears in the new bill, whenever it gets passed.

“There was also more money in that bill for specialty crop grants,” he said. “And there was more money for breeding programs across the country. These were necessary and justified increases, and on the specialty crop side, it was not just potatoes. There is money in there for other crops across the country. I would hate to lose those opportunities.”

The Conservation Reserve Program, which provides 10- and 15-year contracts to farmers who cease production on environmentally sensitive land, also was impacted. It will continue to operate but no new grants can be awarded.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will continue to operate and maintain current agreements, but cannot forge new ones.

Congress is currently discussing a possible extension for the bill. Those working on the measure said they hope to resolve conflicts in time for a possible vote in November or December.

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