By Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener
I was dumbstruck when I read Sharon Tisher’s coverage of the Board of Pesticides Control (BPC) meetings in this issue of The MOF&G. That only one person on that Board knew anything about the Maine Potato Ecosystem Project is inconceivable.
The Maine Potato Ecosystem Project, a cooperative effort of about a dozen researchers at the University of Maine, has been going on for seven years; has been publicized in newspapers (including The MOF&G), on television and at growers’ meetings; and has published a summary of the 1991-1994 data. The project, which compares different methods of providing fertility to and controlling pests in potato fields and has quickly shown farmers how to cut input costs, improve their ground and farm more ecologically, has been lauded by Maine Potato Specialist Ed Plissey as “probably the most significant [work] I’ve seen in my 40-year career. It may put us back on the farm where I was when I was growing up – with four-year rotations, animal manures, green manures” – yet even the potato grower who sits on the BPC was unfamiliar with this work!
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. A couple of years ago, when I was researching how much of the alarmingly toxic insecticide Guthion was being used in Maine, and whether its use had decreased in recent years, I found no one who had that data readily available. One blueberry researcher assured me that although he had no data, he was sure that use of the insecticide was going down. Is this head-in-the-clouds statement an example of the “good science” that Agriculture Commissioner Ed McLaughlin was talking about during his confirmation hearings? Apparently it was then and, based on the knowledge of the BPC, is now. When Paul Gregory of the BPC staff was able to find some data about Guthion tucked in a box in a closet at staff headquarters, he found that the use of this insecticide had actually increased in recent years, despite “scientific” rumors to the contrary. (To its credit, the BPC staff was familiar with the Potato Ecosystem Project, as well; it’s the Board that’s remiss.)
These are just two examples of the immediate need for the pesticide reduction legislation that is being submitted to the Maine Legislature by Sen. Marge Kilkelly at the urging of MOFGA. This legislation, which would have Maine state policy require the use of progressively less pesticide, is the most exciting piece of environmental legislation I have heard of since coming to Maine a dozen years ago. I am indebted to Mitch Lansky for suggesting it to MOFGA and to Sharon Tisher, Russ Libby and Sen. Kilkelly for the many, many hours they have spent crafting legislation that has a good chance of passing.
Will our air, soil, water, crops, bodies and children’s bodies be freer of pesticide residues in the future? It’s up to us now. Please read the centerfold about the legislation, share that information with friends and neighbors, and tell legislators that you want them to support it.
We will publicize the voting records of our elected representatives on this issue. It’s hard to believe that any legislator would want more pesticides in the environment, but if so, his or her name will surely stand out in our published list.