Weed-free certification questionedNorth Dakota’s Agriculture De-partment wants to get out of the business of certifying livestock forage and rock products as weed-free, but county officials say they don’t want the job pushed on them. State and county officials agree on the need for a statewide certification program. Feed could be certified weed-free, for example, when a horse owner takes hay into a national park, or gravel could be certified weed-free for a landowner who buys it but wants no weeds brought on his property with the rocks.
By: By Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — North Dakota’s Agriculture De-partment wants to get out of the business of certifying livestock forage and rock products as weed-free, but county officials say they don’t want the job pushed on them.
State and county officials agree on the need for a statewide certification program. Feed could be certified weed-free, for example, when a horse owner takes hay into a national park, or gravel could be certified weed-free for a landowner who buys it but wants no weeds brought on his property with the rocks.
The question is who should administer the program and be responsible for such things as training inspectors and liability.
The 2009 Legislature will be asked to end the debate, though industry officials are trying to hash it out before then.
Right now, “nobody could seem to come to common ground on it,” said Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City.
The state Agriculture Department has been certifying inspectors for years, under a section of the state’s noxious weeds law that gives the agriculture commissioner authority to adopt weed-free rules.
Judy Carlson, a department program manager, said officials now believe the section of law was misinterpreted.
“It’s clear in the law that (certification) is a responsibility of the county weed boards,” she said.
The Agriculture Department has stopped certifying forage inspectors and rescinded earlier certifications. That means people who want to have forage or sand and gravel certified as weed-free now need to contact counties. The department still is supplying counties with weed-free tags and forms.
An interim legislative committee that is rewriting the state’s noxious weeds law has removed the weed-free certification section from its draft.
Mueller, the committee chairman, said the group wants the industry to come up with a plan. That plan likely will be introduced as legislation separate from the noxious weeds law.
“It’ll be in (state) law if something comes to pass. What it won’t be is part of the committee’s rewrite effort,” Mueller said.
Since 2000, about 110,000 weed-free forage tags have been issued in North Dakota, said Blake Schaan, a noxious weed specialist with the Agriculture Department. One bale of hay would require one tag. He did not have figures for scoria, sand and gravel.
The Agriculture Department certified eight inspectors last year, seven in 2006 and six inspectors in 2005, Schaan said. Carlson said the cost has been minimal and is not a factor in the discussion of who should have responsibility over the program.
Derrill Fick of Minot, president of the North Dakota Weed Control Association, said many counties do not have the staff to assume complete responsibility for weed-free certification. They want the state to continue overseeing the program.
“They’re trying to push it off on us to have that regulatory authority,” said Fick, Ward County’s weed control officer.
Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said in a statement that inspection of forage, gravel, scoria and sand is an important part of controlling the spread of weeds.
“I hope the 2009 Legislature will take up the matter,” he said. “Since counties are under no obligation to have an inspection program, a statewide program, like those in other Midwestern and Western states, would probably be best for North Dakota.”
However, Carlson said that does not mean the Agriculture Department should oversee a statewide program.
“We think there should be a state program overseen by somebody,” she said. “We should leave it up to the Legislature to see who is the most logical provider.”
Carlson said possibilities other than the Agriculture Department might include North Dakota State University, the state Seed Department or the nonprofit state Crop Improvement Association. Minnesota’s Crop Improvement Association runs the weed-free program in that state, Fick said.
If a new North Dakota program is not approved by the 2009 Legislature, there would be no officially recognized weed-free certification program in North Dakota.