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Bean commission drops soybean moratorium proposal

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – The Idaho Bean Commission has dropped its plan to propose a moratorium on soybean production in parts of the state where dry beans are grown.

Instead, the commission will seek to ensure anyone who wants to plant soybeans in Idaho has a source of disease-free seed that is adapted to the region’s climate.

Soybean acres in Idaho have fluctuated from a few to a few hundred over the years but some members of the state’s dry bean and seed industries believe it’s only a matter of time before they are grown in significant numbers here because of the state’s large dairy and cattle industries.

They are concerned that soybeans could bring in diseases such as soybean cyst nematode that could be harmful to dry beans and other crops.

The IBC and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association had proposed placing a moratorium on soybean production in southwestern and southcentral Idaho, where the state’s bean and seed industries are centered.

But state officials and lawmakers were not receptive to that idea.

The groups last year asked the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to initiate rulemaking that would have led to the prohibition but the ISDA sent them a letter saying the governor’s office did not approve the idea because “current rules are in place to sufficiently prevent disease and that banning a crop Is not an appropriate role for an ISDA rule.”

During a February presentation to lawmakers, representatives of the state’s dry bean, seed and sugar beet industries outlined their concerns, but lawmakers also did not embrace the idea of a moratorium.

During a joint meeting with Idaho Farm Bureau Federation dry bean committee members April 28, IBC commissioners said they were dropping the moratorium idea.

Instead, they will seek to bring soybeans under the purview of the bean commission, which would ensure any soybeans grown here are meeting the same strict testing guidelines that dry beans have to meet.

Bringing soybeans under the IBC’s wing will require a change in state statute and the IBC will pursue that option during the 2019 legislative session.

The commission will also seek to ensure that a disease-free source of soybean seed is soon available for anyone interested in growing the crop in Idaho.

“The moratorium idea was not well received so we decided to go another direction,” IBC Administrator Andi Woolf-Weibye said during the joint IBC-IFBF meeting. “This way, if someone wants to grow soybeans, we will have Western-grown, disease and nematode-free seed available for them.”

Once a region gets soybean cyst nematode, it can’t get rid of it, she said, and the commission wants to be proactive to protect the state’s $70 million dry bean industry.

“An ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure,” Woolf-Weibye said.

To ensure there is a source of disease-free soybean seed that grows well in the region’s climate, the commission is working with Clint Shock, the retiring director of Oregon State University’s Malheur County agricultural research station in Ontario.

Shock has been researching soybeans for 30 years and told IBC members during a meeting this year he would be happy to assist their effort.

Working with Shock, the commission should have enough seed in three years for 500 to 1,000 acres of soybeans, said IBC Commissioner Don Tolmie, production manager for Treasure Valley Seed Co. in Homedale.

Tolmie said the commission wants to bring soybeans under its wing “so we can monitor and maintain clean soybeans in the state of Idaho.”

If the soybean industry becomes large enough, “it can take off and have its own commission,” he said. “We are trying to oversee it and help it along and nurture it in the ways of Western seed so we’re producing good seed in the beginning and starting the industry clean. Our ultimate goal is the protection of the dry bean industry.”

About 70 percent of the state’s 50,000 acres of dry beans are grown for seed and Idaho is the nation’s leader in dry bean seed production because of strict guidelines that require dry bean seed to be serology tested and certified as disease-free.

IBC Commissioner and Parma grower Mike Goodson said Idaho bean seed is shipped all over the world “and if we get the reputation of having soybean cyst nematode in our area, our seed value would drop. We don’t want that to happen here.”

“I don’t want to tell a grower they can’t grow a crop that can make them money,” he said. “But I also want to make sure we protect the $70 million dry bean industry we have built in Idaho. We have a reputation for clean seed.”

IFBF bean committee member Carl Montgomery, a grower from Eden who participated in the IBC-Farm Bureau meeting, said he agrees with the commission’s direction on the issue.

“I don’t think placing a moratorium on soybean production is feasible. If someone wants to grow a crop, you can’t tell them ‘no,’” he said. “But I think having soybeans come under the purview of the bean commission is a logical direction to go.”

During the joint meeting, members of the state’s sugar beet industry participated via conference call.

IFBF Director of Commodities and Marketing Zak Miller credited the bean commission for inviting other groups to participate in the meeting and discussion about soybeans.

“I appreciate their open-mindedness and reaching out to other groups and allowing them to offer input and participate,” he said.