17 June 2021
Senator urges rethink on potato research funding cut
A US senator has urged the Agriculture Secretary to reconsider a proposed cut to potato research funding and pledged to work to preserve the critical funding that supports Maine potato farmers.
At an Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, US Senator Susan Collins, who represents Maine, questioned US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack on why the department’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget has eliminated funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Potato Breeding Research Program. This funding supported research at the University of Maine that led to the development of a new potato variety called the Caribou Russet, which has proven incredibly popular and successful in both fresh and processing markets.
“As you are well aware, the potato industry is an essential part of the agricultural sector in Maine, and it is the economy in many rural communities, particularly in the northern part of our state,” said Senator Collins. “I appreciate that the [USDA’s] budget would continue the Integrated Pest Management Program, but I am dismayed that it would eliminate the USDA’s potato breeding research program.”
“This program played a key role in the development of a new potato variety called the Caribou russet—named after my hometown, I would note—that has boosted the Maine industry with its high yields and its resistance to disease,” continued Senator Collins. “The Department received an overall 9 percent increase in its budget, so why is the potato breeding research program targeted for elimination?”
Secretary Vilsack said it’s not necessarily targeted for elimination in the sense that there is a significant increase in the competitive grant programs tat USDA for research. He said: “We want to begin to look for ways in which we support strong research but blend it into our competitive structure as opposed to specifically earmarking specific research projects.”