EPA farm tour brings bureaucrats into the field

15 years ago

By Mark Putnam
Staff writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — It’s not often that federal policymakers get out of Washington, but last week they were not only out of the office but out in the field – Aroostook County potato fields that is.
    A group of scientists and support staff from the Environmental Protection Agency toured northern Maine agricultural operations July 7-10 as guests of the National Potato Council and Maine Potato Board.
    Tim Hobbs, MPB director of development and grower relations, hoped the three-day visit provided the perfect opportunity to give Beltway-based EPA employees “a real world view of the industry that their work affects.”
ImageStaff photo/Mark Putnam
HUNGRY FELLOW — Small but mighty is the Colorado potato beetle, one of the many insect species studied on behalf of the Maine potato industry by scientists with the Cooperative Extension Service.

    “We thought it went very well,” said Hobbs. “It is my understanding that most of the participants hadn’t been to a potato production area before coming here. We kept them quite busy touring farms and talking to growers and industry people.”
    Packed into the short tour were stops at the UM Cooperative Extension Service office in Presque Isle, the Aroostook Research Farm in Masardis, McCain Foods in Easton, Buck Farm in Mapleton, as well as the Michaud and Labrie farms in the St. John Valley. Topics included Integrated Pest Management, late blight forecasting, spray application technology and safety, potato breeding and research, storage and processing improvements, best management practices and examples of farming in sensitive areas.
    According to Meghan Kolassa, director of government affairs with the National Potato Council, the EPA Tour started about 10 years ago and Maine was the first potato state to host the tour. She said it gives the EPA participants the opportunity to see what potato production looks like and to better understand the issues and concerns that growers have to deal with.
    “Potatoes are an important part of the economy in that part of the state as well as for all of Maine. Maine has unique growing conditions as well as different disease pressures such as late blight,” said Kolassa, also a first-time visitor to Aroostook County.
    The NPC, according to Kolassa, is a united voice for the potato industry and works with potato states on national and international potato policy. Maine, she said, is an important part of the potato industry.
ImageStaff photo/Mark Putnam
TALKING TATERS — Dr. Steve Johnson, left, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service in Presque Isle discusses potato viruses and diseases with employees of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs and Meghan Kolassa, governmental affairs director with the National Potato Council. The Washington, D.C.-based visitors came north last week to learn about the Maine potato industry.

    “It is interesting that Aroostook County still releases high school students for two weeks in the fall to harvest potatoes. That just doesn’t happen in other potato states.” Kolassa added.
    Kolassa believes the tour offered employees of the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs first-hand experience and an on-the-ground view of a working farm and forward-thinking Maine potato industry that should pay dividends down the road.
    “Food safety requirements will most likely mean additional record keeping for the potato industry. Currently, the potato industry has an exemplary record. Potatoes have never been part of a food safety issue or concern,” she said.