Idaho Ag Dept. evaluating PCN funding

Potatoes are harvested in Pingree, Idaho. Potato growers have been tabbed by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to serve on a new committee to evaluate options in case full federal funding doesn't come through for the PCN erradication program.

BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould has formed a committee to weigh options in case $1 million in federal funding doesn’t come through toward chemicals used in the pale cyst nematode eradication program.

Her committee, which will meet for the first time during the third week of September, includes seven members and is headed by Shawn Walters with Walters Produce in Newdale, Idaho. Gould said it also includes quarantined growers, the fresh and seed industries, shippers and state lawmakers Rep. Julie VanOrden and Sen. Steven Bair, both R-Blackfoot.

Gould said options may include taking a chance and waiting to see if federal funding comes through, considering grower funding for the program or soliciting funds from the state Legislature.

“We’re hopeful ideas they come up with will get looked at and they’ll come up with a game plan,” Gould said.

PCN, a microscopic parasite that can reduce potato yields by 80 percent, was first detected in an east Idaho tare dirt sample in 2006 and has raised concerns among trade partners. The program’s total Fiscal Year 2013 budget was $4.1 million.

On May 17, PCN infestations were confirmed in two additional east Idaho fields, bringing the quarantine area to 21 fields covering 2,300 acres, all within a 5-mile radius of Bingham and Bonneville counties, according to Tina Gresham, director for the USDA’s PCN program. She said another 10,753 acres are regulated due to associations with infested fields.

Gresham said USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service withheld about half of the cost of methyl bromide supplies for this spring’s PCN treatments due to the sequester. However the state has the ability to award up to $5 million to address agricultural pest emergencies and contributed $1 million toward the chemical purchases. Gould said the fund is used judiciously and state officials made it clear it was a one-time option. Both Gould and Gresham are uncertain if the full federal funding will be restored for next spring.

Gould said ISDA also lacks the budget to buy the methyl bromide.

Several potato growers attending a recent Idaho Grower Shippers Association annual meeting in Sun Valley didn’t see the need for a new committee when the Idaho Potato Commission already has an Agricultural Affairs Committee to handle such issues. Gould said she’ll welcome input from the IPC committee.

“The problem remains at ISDA’s doorstep, and we’re the ones who had to come up with a funding mechanism last time. If that group wants to make some recommendations that would be fabulous,” Gould said.

American Falls grower Jim Tiede hopes the outcome isn’t a new grower fee.

“We already pay taxes into the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. I don’t think another checkoff would go over really well,” Tiede said.

Gould said ISDA will wait to hear the committee’s suggestions before commenting on any specific option.

“They need a clean slate to throw all of the options on the table,” Gould said.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said he’s confident the federal government will adequately fund the PCN program. He said part of that funding will help establish a new central station for steam cleaning equipment to sterilize it of PCN. Gresham said negotiations are in the works with GPOD of Idaho in Shelley to host the cleaning station.

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