Bill to support potato farmers ready for a vote

11 years ago

Bill to support potato farmers ready for a vote

By Rep. Alexander Willette
(R-Mapleton)

    In 1981, the State Legislature established the Maine Potato Marketing Improvement Fund (PMIF). The purpose of the fund was to encourage investment in new and retrofitted storage and packing facilities by providing direct, fixed rate loans to potato growers and packers.

    This legislative session I have submitted a bill, LD 5, “An Act to Make Changes to the Potato Marketing Improvement Fund,” which would make several changes to the arrangement of the PMIF and its relationship to state government. I have been working with the Maine Potato Board on this bill, and am confident that it will have positive effects for Aroostook County farmers if passed.
    I am also pleased to note the widespread support this bill has among Aroostook County legislators, with members of both parties signing on as cosponsors. It’s always heartening to know that we are working together as a delegation to do what is best for the people of Aroostook – and I am sure you all appreciate it when that happens.
    Currently, the oversight of the PMIF falls under the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. LD 5 seeks to move that governing authority to the Maine Potato Board. In doing this, the funding for the program would not change, but the PMIF would have oversight more closely linked to what its mission is – to encourage investment, modernization, and innovation in the potato industry.
    The improved technical assistance that could be offered under such a move is of particular importance. Additionally, bringing the Fund under the oversight of the Maine Potato Board would remove some of the barriers to quick action that can arise when a program is under the oversight of a state department. LD 5 contains common sense change that will help potato farmers.
    As far as the actual administration of the loans, with this legislation the Finance Authority of Maine would retain those functions even if this legislation is passed. As many of you are aware, the potato industry and its related technologies continue to change, and loans such as those provided under this program can help farmers to keep their operations up to date with the latest technology and in doing so remain competitive with growers and distributors in other regions of the country.
    The changes included in LD 5 are not new ideas. In fact, it has been up for discussion for over six years at this point. During the 125th Legislature of 2010-2012, the discussion was part of the deliberations that resulted in the formation of the newly-merged Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. However, the Potato Marketing Improvement remained under the oversight of that department even after the merging of the Department of Agriculture with the Department of Conservation.
    Currently, the bill stands in the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee with an ‘Ought to Pass as Amended’ recommendation from the committee, though it has not yet been officially sent to the full House and Senate for a vote. My hope is that when it reaches the floor of the House and Senate we will see it pass for the benefit of the potato industry, Aroostook County, and the state of Maine. County farmers need all the help they can get, and this bill gives them the support they deserve.
    If you have any questions about this bill or wish to help with its successful passage, please call my office at (207) 287-1440.
    Rep. Alexander Willette of Mapleton is the Assistant Republican Leader in the Maine House of Representatives.