Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, questioned U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue on the proposed elimination of funding for programs that help farmers protect crops from pests and diseases.
In the late 1990s, a new strain of late blight fungus was found in Maine that could not be easily controlled with fungicides as previous strains had been. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program developed a specific remedy to combat and fortify crops against this harmful new strain. This work saved potato growers from devastating crop and revenue losses, and without it, the very existence of Maine’s potato industry would have been in serious jeopardy.
Despite the program’s success in Maine and across the country, the USDA’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposes eliminating funding for both the IPM and the Minor Crops Pest Management Program, commonly known as IR-4 — two initiatives that have been incredibly helpful to Maine growers for decades.
“Initiated in the 1970s as a potatoes-specific USDA pilot program, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension's Integrated Pest Management program is an integral part of my state's agriculture industry,” said Senator Collins. “What began as a small potato pest management pilot program has blossomed into a sophisticated, multidisciplinary hub helping Maine farmers control pests and diseases on a wide range of crops, including potatoes, apples, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, and sweet corn.”
“I think it makes a lot more sense to invest upfront in these research and pest management programs that keep our crops healthy, than to have to pay out enormous sums in disaster payments when farmers lose their entire crop,” Senator Collins continued. “So again, I would ask for you to work with me and the Committee to see if we can restore the funding for a program that I know personally — coming from Aroostook County in Northern Maine — has made a real difference.”
“I would welcome that, Senator. You've articulated extremely well the benefits of integrated pest management,” responded Secretary Perdue. “Having a career in the [agriculture] business, we’ve utilized that program all along… So I couldn't agree with you more.”
Senator Collins has been a longtime champion of Maine’s agricultural sector. The 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law in December, included numerous provisions Senator Collins authored to support Mainers employed in the agriculture industry. Specifically, she authored a provision that included $2.75 million — an increase of $250,000 — for potato research and $20 million for IPM, supporting the work of UMaine’s Cooperative Extension Potato IPM program.