Politicians, potato industry gain from legislative tour

15 years ago
Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

    GREG PORTER, right, who heads up the potato breeding program at the University of Maine Aroostook Farm, discusses potato breeding and research activities with politicians who participated in the Maine Potato Board’s fifth semi-annual legislative tour. The tour, which was held July 15-17, exposes legislators to agriculture and the potato industry. Nineteen legislators participated in this year’s tour.


By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE – The Maine Potato Board hosted its fifth semi-annual legislative tour July 15-17 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.”
    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.”
    This was Rep. Peter Kent’s (D-Woolwich) first time on the tour.
    “Being on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, I don’t have a lot of exposure to northern Maine. It’s really true that in southern Maine, often the northern counties are sort of mythological … we hear about them and what goes on up there but it’s like a land you hear of but don’t get to … a never, neverland,” he said. “I’ve lived in Maine for nearly 15 years, and my grandmother lived here since the 1950s. Since I became a legislator, I’ve been up here a couple time, but before then, not at all. The more I come up here, the more I want to come back.”
    Kent brought his 5-year-old son, Dae, on the tour with him.
    “It’s been a nice father-son time,” said Kent. “He loves the bus. He got to travel without a car seat so he was happy.”
    The Democratic legislator, who represents District 65 (parts of Bath, Brunswick, Topsham, West Bath and Woolwich), said he gained a lot from participating in the tour.
    “During this last session, which was my first, there was a lot of public testimony in committee. Farmers come down, interest groups, and the Maine Potato Board, and they use a lot of language and they talk about places that I haven’t been to,” said Kent, who is a carpenter/sculptor by trade. “It’s hard to fully get a grasp of what’s going on unless you get a visual experience of it and actually get to talk to the people, and I gain that from coming here. Public testimony next year will make more sense to me. When they talk about pesticide issues and different application machinery and equipment, I’ve seen it now and how it works.”
    Kent said he and his son were greatly impressed by some of the “modern machinery” that growers use.
    “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We were up at Theriault Equipment’s new facility and they had a $280,000 boom sprayer. It’s GPS operated and I went in with my son. We rode around hands off … didn’t even have to touch the wheel … it’s all computerized and knows exactly where the boundaries of the fields are. If one boom is hanging over into another field, it automatically shuts off and the other one will keep spraying. It’s very high-tech. My son got a huge kick out of it.”
    Kent would encourage any legislator to go on the 2011 Maine Potato Board legislative tour.
    “Whether they be first-timers or old-timers, I’d encourage any legislator to come,” he said. “I, myself, wouldn’t mind coming up here on my own just hanging out for a week with some of these guys … going out in the fields. If I can find the opportunity, I’d like to come up during the potato harvest and check it out.
    “In working for a week or two, you learn about the process, the community and the people, and I think the real problems come out much more sincerely on a day-to-day basis in working conversation than they do if you ask them, ‘What are your problems?’” said Kent. “This has been a great experience. I’ll be able to bring some real information and first-hand experience to the Ag committee that I didn’t before. One piece that I got from coming up here is how much I don’t know and how much more I need to know, which is often the case when you start digging into something.”
    Also attending the tour were Rep. Peter Edgecomb (R-Caribou), Rep. Tyler Clark (R-Easton), Rep. Patricia Sutherland (D-Chapman), Rep. Sara Stevens (D-Bangor), Rep. Dean Cray (R-Palmyra), Rep. Brian Bolduc (D-Auburn), Rep. Jane Eberle (D-South Portland), Rep. Ann Peoples (D-Westbrook), Rep. Jane Knapp (R-Gorham), Rep. Paulette Beaudoin (D-Biddeford), Rep. Walter Wheeler (D-Kittery), Rep. Edward Finch (D-Fairfield), Rep. Teresea Hayes (D-Buckfield), Rep. Richard Sykes (R-Harrison), Rep. Ralph Sarty, Jr. (R-Denmark), Rep. Ken Theriault (D-Madawaska), Sen. Joseph Brannigan (D-Portland) and Sen. Roger Sherman (R-Houlton).
    This year’s legislative tour featured visits to the Porter Seed Farm in Masardis, Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill, Theriault Equipment in Presque Isle, LaJoie Growers in Van Buren, County Super Spuds in Mars Hill and the University of Maine Aroostook Farm in Presque Isle.


Staff photo/Scott Mitchell JohnsonImage
    DURING THE MAINE POTATO BOARD’S recent legislative tour, participants visited the University of Maine Aroostook Farm’s Potato Research Storage facility. Looking at a potato, held by George McLaughlin, agricultural engineer at the Maine Potato Board, are, from left: Rep. Paulette Beaudoin (D-Biddeford), Randy Smith, superintendent of the Aroostook Farm; Rep. Edward Finch (D-Fairfield), Rep. Peter Kent (D-Woolwich) and Rep. Richard Sykes (R-Harrison). Other stops on the tour included visits to the Porter Seed Farm in Masardis, Naturally Potatoes in Mars Hill, Theriault Equipment in Presque Isle, LaJoie Growers in Van Buren and County Super Spuds in Mars Hill.