BOISE — Idaho lawmakers have approved a rule that will allow certain invasive plants to be grown in Idaho to make biofuels or to eradicate a crop pest.
The rule sets up a process so people who want to grow a non-native energy or trap crop species the state considers invasive can apply for a permit with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
The department would only issue a permit if it is convinced the right controls are in place to prevent the plant from becoming a major problem in Idaho, said Matt Voile, who administers the state’s invasive species and noxious weed rules for the ISDA.
“The objective here is to put the onus on the permit applicant to prove to us they can in fact contain this,” he said.
In Idaho, sticky nightshade, a trap crop invasive species, is being tested for its ability to control pale cyst nematode, a potentially devastating pest that was detected in some eastern Idaho fields in 2006. The microscopic parasite can reduce potato yields by up to 80 percent.
The department doesn’t want just anyone having those plants, said Lloyd Knight, administrator of ISDA’s plant industries division.
The permit process gives the department the ability to ensure that anyone who grows these plants has a good plan on how to contain them to ensure they don’t get established in Idaho, he said.
If the department isn’t convinced the right controls are in place, “then we won’t issue a permit,” he said. “Rather than outright prohibit it, we thought we’d at least have a mechanism to learn amore about what they wanted to do … We’re trying to have that balance.”
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, said she understands the need for certain invasive trap crops to be grown in Idaho in order to eradicate a crop disease.
However, she said she is concerned that the rules don’t describe who is liable if an invasive energy crop species the ISDA approves gets established and causes widespread damage.
“What is going to happen if there is an escape? Who’s going to have to pay?” asked Batt, a former farmer. “I don’t know that the control mechanisms are (sufficient).”
Voile said there is increased interest in biofuel crops that Idaho considers as invasive, including switchgrass, giant reed and kudzu.
He said that without the rule, the state has no other mechanism with which to regulate those plants and there would be no requirement for a grower to notify the ISDA.
“There has been a lot of chatter out there in the industry that these things are on the way,” Voile said. “It would be wise to get out in front of this thing.”