Holman Column: Is Testin’s ‘Blight Bill’ Necessary?
By Chris Holman
I’ve read the “Blight Bill” recently written by Sen. Patrick Testin and his co-authors, and I have yet to figure out why this bill is needed. The following questions are areas that—as of the end of January—have not been satisfactorily answered in the media coverage of the bill or by Sen. Testin’s office.
Why is this needed and who is the intended target of this bill? Currently, any potato grower worth his or her antisporulant is going to be following Best Management Practices (BMPs) every step along the way to ensure that blight doesn’t set in. If the conditions become right for it, and it’s a bad year, the same potato growers are going to be spraying as needed. They are also scouting their fields and addressing problems as they come up. This bill reads as if none of this is the case. Unless, that is, potato growers are not the intended target of the bill.
What is the discovery mechanism? How are we going to know if there is a potato grower with five or more acres who is not following BMPs? Furthermore, who growing five or more acres is not going to be following BMPs in the first place? A farmer who is growing that much of a crop is going to do everything they can to harvest the crop and to keep it in as good of a condition as possible for market. Are there any examples of farmers growing that many potatoes deliberately doing nothing or not doing anything in a reasonable time frame to address the blight in their fields? It worries me that this bill may simply encourage farmers to go after other farmers via the government.
Why is the bill inconsistent with time frame if time is of the essence in addressing blight? The 24-hour requirement is virtually impossible to satisfy for anyone who doesn’t have antisporulants on-hand and ready-to-spray within that window. Leaving an allowance for weather sounds good and reasonable, but if blight is the issue, then why not allow for a weather situation to trigger automatic destruction of the affected crop through non-spraying methods? This is even more confusing to me, as the weather that is going to prevent one from addressing the issue is going to likely exacerbate the blight situation.
There is also an allowance for an appeal to be filed. How can that possibly help to eliminate the blight issue in a timely manner unless the appeal will never be granted because the time it would take to complete the appeal would, again, exacerbate the blight issue?
How is empowering government to effectively raid your farm and destroy your crops a good idea? There are also no guidelines for how this is to be done. One might assume that if DATCP was to raid your farm that they would carry out the needed action as efficiently as possible.
For one, that begs the question as to why we’re seeing government as efficient in this scenario, but more to my point, if there is no SOP for how to carry this out, then the bill opens up farmers’ property to any number of interpretations as to how the blight issue needs to be addressed. Allowing for local government to have a hand in this is just as bad, as it wouldn’t be hard for personal grudges or other personal issues to work their way through this process and to the detriment of the person who will not only have their farm raided but will also have to foot the bill for however the blight issue is addressed.
What is the treatment for blight according to this bill? If it is only the use of an antisporulant fungicide, which ones are allowable or considered to fit the definition of “treatment”? If organic production prohibits the use of certain fungicides, does that mean that this bill will threaten all organic potato production in the state? What if DATCP raids an organic potato farm and sprays a fungicide that is not approved by the National Organic Program? Will DATCP be providing compensation for the three years of crops that could’ve been grown there in the future as the farmer waits for that land to be certifiable again? Or does the farmer in that scenario not only lose the crop but he or she will also pay all associated costs and have to lose three years of production on that ground? Even in conventional situations, are the allowed antisporulants ones that requires a license to use and a license to purchase? If so, that will exclude any farmer without either from meeting the 24-hour window.
This bill lays the groundwork for burdensome litigation and court fees for farmers if these issues aren’t addressed.
If it’s a bad year for blight, chances are many farmers are going to get it. They’ll get it on anything in the same family as potatoes, and it comes in on the wind. Farmers downwind from large production of potatoes may, for instance, get blight on their tomatoes. If that occurs, how do the affected farmers trace the blight that has landed on their farm to the right origin?
We’re talking thousands and thousands of acres in production here, so it will not be an easy feat.
Still, assuming that part of this bill is aiming at trying to prevent excessive and expensive spraying of chemicals for farmers, wouldn’t any farmer be able to file a complaint if they believe the blight is coming from a particular area and force that farmer’s hand to address the issue? A farmer could deny that they have blight, but no one can inspect every plant at larger scales. You can treat an area when you see it, but because of the management situation on thousands of acres, farmers are likely going to be spraying preventatively anyway in order to, ideally, prevent blight from setting in. Are other farmers then allowed to scout your fields if they believe blight is coming from you based on prevailing wind patterns? If not, will DATCP be investigating complaints in a timely manner?
Which brings us back to the original question. Why is this bill needed? Who needs it? How many cases did the previous language in this bill fail to address in a satisfactory manner? How much crop value was lost because of the previous language? It seems like a completely unnecessary bill without, at the very least, good answers to those questions. And please do not take this criticism the wrong way.
This is not a criticism of Sen. Testin or the co-authors of the bill. My questions are directed at the bill itself, and I know that I and many others would appreciate any further insight the Senator can provide.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the Irish Famine you invoke when speaking to why you wrote the bill was as much a result of big, brutal government as it was an issue of blight.
Just a small thing worth mentioning as we discuss your bill and how it relates to bigger government in our lives and on our farms, and addressing blight in our fields.