Tour exposes legislators to potato industry

17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – The Maine Potato Board hosted its fourth semi-annual legislative tour July 18-20 giving state politicians a first-hand look at the region’s potato industry.

“We do it every other year in a non-election year so the people on the tour will be in Augusta next year,” said Donald Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. “We started this because we believed there were a lot of people in Maine, particularly in the Legislature, who didn’t understand or didn’t have any exposure to agriculture and the potato industry. We felt it would be beneficial to us if we started some type of an effort to get them some exposure to it.
“People tend to make better decisions when they’re more informed,” he said. “The tour has grown every year … this is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had and it’s paid dividends. We have legislators who went on the first tour and are still in the Legislature and they’ll come up to us and say, ‘What are you guys doing? Is there anything I can help you with?’ Sometimes they’ll ask if a bill will impact our growers, and that’s huge. Any time you can build your alliances and partners, that’s a positive thing for the industry.”
While Flannery and Timothy Hobbs, director of development/grower relations for the Maine Potato Board testify regularly in Augusta on various agricultural issues, Flannery said the tour is a way for legislators to “look growers in the eye, ask the question and get honest answers.”
“We don’t have to fill up a bus and take growers to Augusta,” said Flannery. “We’re bringing Augusta to them. Of all the things we do, this is one we’ll always keep. It’s a no-brainer for the benefit we’re getting out of it.”
Rep. Timothy Carter (D-Bethel) brought his wife, Jodi, with him on the tour.
“She’s never seen ‘The County’ which is such a beautiful place … this was a good chance to see it, and to get to meet the real people,” he said. “I’m also very interested in the industry.”
Recognizing that the potato industry is shrinking, Carter said the Legislature needs to look at things such as high-energy costs.
“We’ve got to get cheaper energy for processors because the processing market is bigger than the fresh market, and any processor like McCain, their electric bill is huge,” said Carter. “The only way we’re ever going to decrease costs is if the government takes the bull by the horns and does something proactive to get cheaper energy costs.”
Department of Agriculture Commissioner Seth Bradstreet III has attended the tour in the past as a grower, but this was the first time as commissioner.
“As a grower, when I was on the Maine Potato Board, we realized that we needed a lot of education in Augusta on matters concerning agriculture … specifically the potato industry,” said Bradstreet. “It works wonders. Folks line up in Augusta to get on the bus to come.
“Getting the legislators out to the farm, involved in the industry, and up close and personal to help them understand the trials and tribulations we go through is key,” he said. “Having them attend makes my job as commissioner easier because they’re so much more educated. They’re asking the pertinent questions, so we don’t have to go back and give them Agriculture 101. I think the tour is a wonderful opportunity both for the growers and the legislators.”
Agriculture is Rep. Dean Cray’s (R-Palmyra) bread and butter.
“I have 25 to 30 acres of sweet corn and general crops … farmstand-type crops,” he said. “I’m very interested in farming and even though I’m a grower, I’m learning a lot. Research and development … how money is being used in the state, is interesting. I’ll be able to take that information back to Augusta with me.
“A lot of my fellow legislators don’t realize the expense that a farmer goes through,” said Cray, “and that what he puts in the ground is hit or miss. Either you make it or you don’t make it, and you’ve got to pay for it either way. It’s quite an investment, so hopefully my colleagues are learning that. It’s been a fun trip.”
This was Rep. Walter Wheeler’s (D-Kittery) first industry tour.
“I’ve learned about processing from our tour of McCain Foods, as well as what kind of insects growers have to look out for,” he said. “At the Aroostook Farm, we learned about different research projects. Things like the lab is money well spent, and we should spend more to get the potato business thriving again. Money’s tight but it seems there should be some way to invest more money into the economy.”
Also attending the tour were Rep. Ben Pratt (D-Eddington), Rep. Terry Hayes (D-Buckfield), Rep. Charles Fisher (D-Brewer) and his wife, Ellen; Rep. Jane Eberle (D-South Portland), Rep. Jacqueline Lundeen (D-Mars Hill), Rep. Paulette Beaudoin (D-Biddeford), Rep. Andrea Boland (D-Sanford), Rep. Donna Finley (R-Skowhegan), Rep. Don Marean (R-Hollis) and his wife, Linda; Rep. Philip Curtis (R-Madison), Rep. Charles Theriault (D-Madawaska), Rep. Bonnie Gould (R-South Berwick), Rep. Patricia Sutherland (D-Chapman), Rep. Christopher Rector (R-Thomaston), Rep. Jim Hamper (R-Oxford), Rep. Jeremy Fischer (D-Presque Isle), Rep. Susan Austin (R-Gray), Rep. Patricia Blanchette (D-Bangor), Rep. Ann Peoples (D-Westbrook) and her husband, Patrick; Rep. Peter Edgecomb (R-Caribou), Rep. Nancy Smith (D-Monmouth), and Rep. Richard Cleary (D-Houlton).
Also, Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County), Sen. Debra Plowman (D-Penobscot), Sen. Joe Perry (D-Penobscot), Sen. Jonathan Courtney (R-York), and Sen. Roger Sherman (R-Aroostook).
This year’s legislative tour featured visits to McCain Foods in Easton, Presque Isle’s Aroostook Farm, Flewelling Farms in Easton, a broccoli field owned by Smith Farm, Buck Farm in Mapleton, Porter Seed Farm in Ashland, and the annual industry dinner in Fort Fairfield.