US officials have released a new plan of methods to deal with a microscopic pest in southeast Idaho that threatens the state's multi-billion dollar industry that supplies one-third of the country's potatoes.
The United States Department of Agriculture released its latest rule late last week, which will take effect in late January. It includes years of criteria for killing pests and reopening quarantined fields for production.
The new rule follows a 2018 court ruling in a lawsuit filed by potato farmers who found that the U.S. government had illegally quarantined some potato fields in Idaho that were contaminated with the pale cyst nematode first discovered in 2006. Farmers with quarantined fields are not allowed to sell potatoes that are in them.
Nematodes feed on potato roots and can reduce crop production by 80%. When the pest was first discovered, Canada, Mexico, and Korea did not accept potatoes from Idaho, and Japan banned all American potatoes. The countries eventually lifted their ban, the last one coming in late 2017 when Japan reopened its market.
US District Judge Edward Lodge ruled in his 2018 decision that the federal government has introduced quarantine and other restrictions without adequate public input. But he left the quarantines in place. He said it was bad to violate public input laws, but lifting the quarantines could lead to a ban on Idaho potatoes and US potatoes shipped overseas.
In particular, Lodge's order made the rules temporary until U.S. officials recreated the process. The latest rule announced last week marks the end of a two-year process of public comment. The new rules also allow for additional public comments on proposed future changes.
Bryan Searle took part in public comments leading up to the new rule, noting that his farming activities "had had a negative impact from the first discovery." Expressing his frustration with the quarantine process, he wrote that storms and animals can spread the nematode.
"The claim that it is confined to a small area and can be eradicated is, in my opinion, a false claim and will prove itself over time," he wrote in July.
Stephanie Mickelsen of Mickelsen Farms, who also faced restrictions due to the nematodes, also noted in the same direction.
“Concerning the PCN regulations, solid science is ignored; instead, the emphasis was on appeasing trading partners, ”she wrote in July.
Nematodes prove difficult to eradicate.
"To date, no contaminated fields have met the testing requirements to be fully deregulated," the US Department of Agriculture said in the publication of the new rule. “At this stage of the eradication process, the fields remain regulated, with measures to reduce soil movement of the field until or unless three crops of potatoes have been grown on the field and no viable nematodes are detected after each crop has been harvested . "
The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which represents what it describes as 80,000 family members, has not specifically commented on the rules. But Russ Hendricks, the director of government affairs, wrote that the "Farm Bureau is adamantly opposed to any unjust and uncompensated possession".
Chanel Tewalt, spokeswoman for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, said the agency had no comments on the recent action by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Idaho led the nation in 2019 by producing just over 13 billion pounds of potatoes, according to the Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. The agency said the state had about 308,000 acres of potatoes in 2019, with a crop worth just over $ 1 billion.
In early 2020, the federal agency said 3,446 acres in Idaho were infected with pale cyst nematodes. The agency also said an additional 3,704 acres are regulated because they are near or associated with infected fields and may also contain nematodes.
All fields are located in Bingham and Bonneville counties. Officials never determined how the nematodes entered the state.
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