Courtesy of Travis Blacker
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Some of the potato farmers who make an annual trip to lobby lawmakers and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., know Environmental Protection Agency staff members by name, and look forward to having coffee with them.
Conversely, officials with EPA are quick to reach out to potato industry leaders when they have questions about “what’s really going on” in spud fields, said John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO with National Potato Council.
Keeling believes the positive relationship between farmers and federal regulators is the result of his organization’s longstanding program to host potato-country tours for employees of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. Six EPA risk managers and rule writers attended this summer’s trip to Eastern Idaho during the week of Aug. 14.
Keeling explained the tour rotates among states, and the regulators are scheduled to visit Michigan next summer. NPC also organizes a day-long tour in the East Coast for a larger group of EPA officials once every three years.
“We think it’s a big part of being partners with EPA and giving some opportunity for these folks who are making decisions on pesticides to see how chemicals are actually applied and handled,” Keeling said, adding that potato industry officials also learn what’s involved in EPA’s process of making “science-based decisions.”
Keeling said EPA staff member Kyle Morford had been contacting NPC for information to guide a registration review for sulfuric acid, used to kill potato vines before harvest. During the recent tour, Morford had the chance to ask his questions of farmers who use the product.
“The tour was enlightening, giving us a better understanding of the challenges of growing potatoes in a desert climate, the significant pests and strategies to combat them and when pesticides are needed,” Morford said in a press release.
Keeling said potato industry leaders also suggested that any new restrictions on the use of the vine desiccant Diquat limit only the total amount of product allowed for use, and not the number of applications, to give growers greater flexibility.
Travis Blacker, with the Idaho Potato Commission, planned the tour’s stops, including visits to James Hoff’s farm, Raybould Brothers Farm, the Wilcox Fresh packing plant, Sunrain Potato Seed Solutions, Idahoan Foods and Spudnik Equipment.
Blacker said the visitors were impressed by the advanced technology and precision upon witnessing an aerial application demonstration at Hoff’s farm. Blacker believes another key moment came when an EPA staff member asked farmer Jeff Raybould if he always uses the maximum amount of chemicals allowed under product labels.
“He said, ‘We never use the maximum amount. This stuff is expensive,’” Blacker said. “I think it really hit home with them.”