Despite budget cut, seed potato inspections continue for now
The Division of Agriculture has found a way to continue seed potato inspections this year, despite Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget cuts to all inspection programs.
It’s welcome news to Mark Troutman who’s been selling seed potatoes for 22 years. He’s growing nearly 30 varieties on his Little Susitna Farm outside Palmer.
“It’s a good retirement job. I’m my own boss,” Troutman said. “It’s not cheap but the rewards are there.”
By law, his seed potatoes have to be state inspected and certified before he can sell them to other growers.
“We pay for our inspections. And I’m willing to pay more. But to just come in and cut it like that,” Troutman said.
He said the governor’s $1.2 million cut to the Division of Agriculture, including all inspections, came as a shock.
“We were supposed to be open for business and this is basically closing business. It’s not making it any easier,” Troutman said.
His farm is one of 16 that grew certified potato seed last year.
The complex work starts at the Plant Materials Center where each variety is tested for diseases that could wipe out a crop.
“One of the wonderful things about Alaska is we really have the clean water, clean soil, clean air which allows our guys market in Pacific rim and other countries,” said Division of Agriculture director Dave Schade. “We really have clean seed compared to other countries.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lists potatoes as one of Alaska’s most valuable crops, creating more than $3 million in net value annually.
Schade said he’s been working with DNR staff to make sure seed potato inspections continue this year. Missing just one season could have long-lasting effects on the industry.
“If you disrupt one year, you could be disrupting a decade before you get everything back into sync. And that’s the concern I have as the director is to make sure everybody understands the real-world consequences of some of the decisions that are made,” Schade said.
The Division of Agriculture was forced to cut 17 full-time positions as a result of the budget veto. Schade said the person who inspects potatoes is still employed.
“She was assigned to other duties so we’ll work on how that’s going to work. There’s discussions on how we’re going to work the budgeting out,” Schade said.
The future of the industry remains uncertain as there’s no guarantee there will be any inspections in 2020.
Troutman said he likely won’t plant if that’s the case.
“I don’t know what we’ll do. Just quit. I’ll auction everything off and go to Arizona,” he said, then added laughing, "No, I hate Arizona."
He wants to stay in Alaska where his seed potato business is thriving. Without inspections though, he’s not sure how to make it work.
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