AUGUSTA – A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to help Maine farmers respond to extreme weather conditions and support the state’s agricultural economy earned strong, bipartisan support in the Legislature’s Agricultural, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Thursday. The vote was 10-2.
LD 1998, “An Act To Establish a Disaster Relief Fund for Potato Farmers Adversely Affected by Drought Conditions” would establish a grant program that Maine farmers can access to weather extreme conditions. The amended language also includes a provision to improve access to water in unorganized territories at the request of President Jackson.
“Farming is a critical part of our state’s character and economy. It’s a core part of who we are and our storied history in Aroostook County. But in recent years, extreme weather conditions, like drought, have hit Maine farmers pretty hard, causing devastating losses that threaten the entire industry,” said President Jackson. “This bill is about making sure that our state is taking steps to protect and preserve our heritage industries that have powered rural communities for generations by establishing grants to improve access to irrigation.”
In 2021, many potato farmers in Aroostook County experienced an impressive crop yield, outperforming previous years by as much as 20 percent. However, this is not representative of the entire industry nor does it reflect the impact of extreme weather conditions in recent years. Farms in regions of the state experiencing prolonged drought took enormous hits to their yield and overall profits.
In 2020, drought conditions experienced statewide meant the total potato yield for the state underperformed the five-year average by nearly 15 percent. These losses amount to hundreds of dollars per acre.
The amended version of LD 1998 is supported by the Maine Potato Board and the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine. The measure will go before the Senate and House for initial votes in the coming week.