April 07, 2020

Seed potato farmer seeks to sue state> Dispute centers on reported finding of bacteria that may cause ring rot

PRESQUE ISLE — A Monticello seed potato grower is asking the Legislature for permission to sue state agriculture officials after they reportedly found one tuber that contained a low level of a bacteria that may cause ring rot.

The disease, called the smallpox of potato diseases, can destroy a seed potato operation. The disease causes quick deterioration in storage.

The state has a zero-tolerance policy regarding ring rot, and if the disease is found, the entire farm’s seed production for that year is decertified, rendering it unsaleable as seed. The potatoes still could be sold for eating.

On Thursday, Daniel Corey of Monticello asked the Maine Potato Board for support in his quest “to get his day in court.” If approved, the bill would allow Corey to sue the state. A hearing on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Edgar Wheeler, R-Bridgewater, is scheduled for Feb. 10.

The board voted 8-3 to support Corey in his effort. Board members made no comment on their vote.

The vote came during the board’s annual meeting, which also was attended by Agriculture Commissioner Ed McLaughlin.

“We’re obviously going to oppose this bill,” the commissioner said to the MPB. Also against the bill are the Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Angus King.

“Every time somebody disagrees with the state, are you going to court?” McLaughlin asked. “What do you do every time someone has a beef with the state?”

After the meeting, Corey declined to discuss his potential lawsuit against the state. However, according to a letter he sent to all MPB members, the diseased tuber was found by state inspectors in 1996. The seed farmer claimed that no further evidence of ring rot was found in subsequent tests conducted by the University of Maine, tests he had done privately.

In addition, another 800 potatoes from Corey’s farm were tested for ring rot, which showed negative results, according to Corey’s letter. Tubers from the same suspect lot were planted and grown in Florida and were found to have no evidence of the disease.

According to Corey’s letter, the state Department of Agriculture approved of the follow-up tests and “indicated reversal if these tests were negative.” However, no such letter reversing its finding of ring rot has been received by Corey, he stated in his letter.

In other matters Thursday, the board elected officers for the coming year.

Andrew McGlinn of Caribou was elected president and Andrew Yaeger of Westfield was elected vice president. Ashley Brewer of Monticello was elected secretary and Tom Qualey of Sherman Mills assumed the treasurer’s position.

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