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Although the new year has scarcely begun, the Washington State Potato Commission is running full bore addressing issues of interest and concern to the potato industry. "One of our biggest priorities is working with the Environmental Protection Agency to further refine soil fumigation requirements," said Executive Director Chris Voigt.

During the re-registration process, Mr. Voigt said that the EPA promulgated regulations requiring a 1,000-foot buffer zone from the outer edge of a center pivot free of buildings and structures. "That's going to be really difficult for our growers," he told The Produce News in late December. "We want to see buffers made smaller."

A scientific computer-modeling program is currently running to explore various aspects of the matter. "Right now, we are looking at research on soil temperatures and soil moisture," said Mr. Voigt. Fumigant emissions are reduced in moist soil and soils of lower temperature.

An animated computer graph has been generated to show how center pivots work. "You're only fumigating parts of the field at a time," Mr. Voigt commented, adding that by the time one quarter of a circle has been sprinkled, fumigation is finished in that area. As a result, he said, "Fumigation should be for 10 acres [or one-quarter of the fumigated area], not 10 acres."

Mr. Voigt was asked what kind of reception the work is receiving. "EPA has indicated it would listen to new data," he replied. "They've made themselves amenable to amending the rules based upon scientific evidence."

The WSPC will talk with EPA officials in February to present its data and findings. Mr. Voigt does not anticipate any questions concerning the analytical methodology of the program. He pointed out that the outcome of these discussions will affect growers throughout the United States.

"Another priority is research funding," he continued. "With the deficit, it will be tough to get dollars." He said a key area of focus is development of new potatoes that are "resistant to everything." Washington, Oregon and Idaho are working cooperatively to secure funding and assign specific tasks to maximize funds. "There's not one place calling the shots," he said. "We want to do a great job and identify efficiencies."

The three states began seeing a fundamental industry shift a decade ago. "People started looking at each other not as competitors but as friends," Mr. Voigt explained.

Mr. Voigt said the WSPC is working to unify other agricultural groups to have a common voice at the national level. "Agriculture is so diverse. We must identify commonality," he said. "We will avoid specific interests. Electors like this idea."

Immigration reform, transportation reform and clean water and water storage legislation are issues that affect agriculture across the board. Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture came out with recent changes to its Good Agricultural Practices audit, and the WSPC is rising to the challenge. Training materials created by the commission are being revamped to help potato producers with sustainability audits. "This helps simplify things for growers," Mr. Voigt stated. "We are two years away from national standards. This helps growers in the interim."

(For more on Washington potatoes, see the Jan. 18, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)