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Susan Collins

Potato Farming: A Proud Maine Heritage
By Senator Susan M. Collins
Jul 21, 2006 - 10:18:00 PM

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Senator Susan M. Collins represents the State of Maine in the U.S. Senate.
In the early 1920's, the great-great grandfathers of Ron and Ruth Moir moved each of their families from Canada to Maine with the dream of becoming farmers. The wet springs and mild summers of Aroostook County were ideal conditions for growing many crops, but none more so than the potato. The two farmers built successful farms that flourished over the years. Four generations later, in the spirit of their ancestors, Ron and Ruth Moir established their own potato farm in Woodland. The couple's three sons inherited that commitment to potato farming, and today, each of them also owns and operates a potato farm. The Moirs are just one family of so many families that are proud to carry on this tradition. The Maine Potato Board says that there are nearly 500 potato growers in our state, from the rolling fields of Aroostook County to the western mountain region around Bethel. In most cases, the fields that first blossomed with potato plants many years ago remain in family hands.

I recently had the pleasure of honoring and reflecting on this proud history when I participated in the 59th Annual Potato Blossom Festival in Fort Fairfield. A couple of the many highlights of my trip included participating in the festival parade, as I do every year, and attending the potato industry dinner where I was pleased to help recognize Ron and Ruth Moir as Maine's 2006 Farm Family of the Year by presenting them with a flag that flew in their honor over the U.S. Capitol. I spoke with growers and other leaders in the potato industry, and I was reminded of the harvests that I participated in as a child growing up in the County.

Maine's potato industry has certainly faced many struggles since the Moirs' ancestors planted their first potatoes. Even so, it remains the cornerstone of Maine's natural resource-based economy. Today, the industry accounts for more than 6,100 jobs and has an economic impact of over $500 million annually.  We must foster this proud heritage by ensuring that Maine's potato farmers continue to sustain and improve their crops. For this reason, I have worked to support funding and projects of particular interest and benefit to the potato industry. Notably, the Agricultural Appropriations bill that was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in late June included almost $6 million in funding that will directly benefit Maine's agricultural interests. I worked for the inclusion of two research projects of importance to Maine's potato farmers: the development of new potato varieties, and support for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) New England Plant, Soil, and Water Laboratory at the University of Maine in Orono.

The goal of the potato variety research is to identify improved varieties of seed potatoes for Maine and other North American markets that combine excellent quality with high yields and pest resistance. This project evaluates new potato varieties for everything from their chipping or fresh market potential to their resistance to pests and disease.

The New England Plant, Soil and Water Laboratory has operated for more than 25 years and is particularly critical to Maine's potato industry because it is the only ARS facility in New England. This allows the laboratory to conduct experiments addressing the unique challenges that face potato growers both in the region and across the country. The research performed at this laboratory will help improve rotation systems and management practices, find more efficient uses of nutrients and water, and develop better methods to control insects and weed growth.

These initiatives are of paramount importance if we are to maintain Maine's high standards for the health and quality of our potato crops. The vitality of this industry depends on the ongoing efforts undertaken farmers, scientists and the federal government.

I would like to congratulate all who participated in this year's Potato Blossom Festival for making it a wonderful event again this year. As the Moir family and other Maine potato growers look forward to a successful and bountiful harvest this year, I will continue to work in Congress to secure the resources and funding needed to help ensure that this proud family farming heritage continues to thrive.

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