Friday, November 10, 2017

Alaska Ag....Will ADF&G Outlaw Domestic

sheep and goats by Sunday?

That question is worrying all who stand in opposition to the Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation's push to remove our domestic flocks from the "clean list". 

Prop 64 is on the Alaska Department of Fish & Game meeting agenda this weekend. If you would like to speak up in support of your local farmers, ranchers, and hobbyists, you have until Saturday at 10:30 to sign up for oral comments. 

The meeting is being held through the 17th at the Lakefront Hotel, 4800 Spenard Road, Anchorage.

Over 360 fellow Alaskans took the time to submit letters in opposition to this proposal. 

The supporters are knowingly misleading the Alaska public, by stating that if the proposal passes, then folks can just get a permit, test, and be reimbursed for any stock destroyed as a result.  This is a lie. Not just an untruth, or a misstatement, it is a lie.

Direct from the State website:

In other words, the Board of Game has the power to remove species from the "clean list" If the animal is not on the clean list, then ownership is prohibited. Period end. 

Unfortunately, our local reporter was not as thorough as she could have been, when this was published by the ADN:

The article does not go into depth on the lack of scientific data, how Dall sheep differ from Bighorn, what has occurred in the lower 48, under what conditions, etc.  After all, there have been domestic sheep and goats here for decades, with absolutely zero disease outbreak between domestic and wild stock.  ADF&G have not even identified habitat, yet the AWSF is intent on destroying a significant portion of animal husbandry in Alaska.  

If you can add your voice in support of local livestock (and food security!) in Alaska, it would be greatly appreciated.  This action is flat out fear mongering, has wide ranging implications (see previous entries on this subject), and serves no one but the pocketbooks of guides and outfitters, and their wealthy clients. Who, by the way, killed over 700 wild sheep last year alone. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Alaska Ag.....All Hail The....

All hail the chief! 

Or the dictator. Or something to that effect.

Please do take a moment to click back on the previous blog entry, and read the comments.

Pay as much heed to Greg's demands as you like, to, as he puts it-"shut the fuck up and be nice".  Oh and make sure you pay homage to the man who "saved agriculture in the state" while you're at it *cough cough*

Followed by another obfuscation, allegedly posted by the MMM&S plant manager.  As the more public face of MMM&S, Shannon also posted on social media a screed referencing members of the ag community as "disreputable", and naming this blog author and another by name.  

Really, this is how you promote your business?  Take public sideswipes at your customer base?  Is that saving ag?  Why no, it is not.  But the overblown response is as puzzling as it is amusing. All that was done was to put together two *public* notices, of current sales prices (as of that date) at MMM&S.  And note that the advertised prices seriously undercut local Alaska raised, fed, and Alaska born livestock from other producers. Which is true, and they know it. 

They know because they cannot afford to do it themselves, and stay competitive. Not even with a feedlot masquerading as a "ranch", not with direct slaughter imports, not with any method.  So how are they offering these amazing prices?  Why, one only needs to look at their published processing rates to see the likely source of their "savings". 

Ag was not "saved" by the purchase of that plant.  Was it helpful? Of course, we all know that continuity of that facility is paramount to livestock producers.  But there are alternatives, other USDA plants that could have been used if absolutely necessary, or people could have gone back to custom exempt sales easily enough-and foregone the retail package sales altogether.  That said, the above attitude and way of doing business are just two reasons that Denali Meat Company invested in a mobile slaughter plant, and that the one at Pt MacKenzie exists today. 

Sometimes, having a monopoly is not as advantageous as one would think. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Alaska Ag.....That's Gonna Hurt

In what is sure to be viewed by local smaller producers as "dirty business", MMM&S has published online their current rates:

Posted October 10th, the above entry elicited a number of comments asking for clarity.  A person would have to call the plant themselves for more information as Mr Mobley's remarks were made in response to a number of individual comments.

What showed up on Craigslist was slightly different:

So there you have it, MMM&S has established a baseline price structure that basically takes local competitors off at the knees.  MMM&S and Mike's Meats have already muddied the "Alaska Grown" designation, with misleading advertising....but readers may recall that MMM&S now imports Canadian cattle direct to the slaughter plant.  In addition, Mike's Meats/Rocket Ranch, bring in hundreds of weaner pigs from Canada each year. 

They either presume they will capture the lion's share of the market and intend on being that lion, or they've seriously miscalculated the economy, the market, and/or their investment and are pushed to increase sales. Or something else entirely, one can only speculate. 

Smaller producers, and those who raise bred and born in Alaska livestock, grown on Alaskan feed, cannot come close to matching the above advertised prices.  Especially not with cut and wrap included, never mind the other fees. 

However, many people ascribe to the saying: 

Know your farmer, know your food!  

Next up:  Food "trigger" words.....stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Alaska Ag....hiatus is over

A few new items of note:

Prop 64, Board of Game  

Yes, the Alaska chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation has renewed its efforts to outlaw ownership and possession of domestic sheep and goats in the state. This proposition is fiercely opposed by nearly everyone who learns of the matter. Prop 64 is crafted to address a supposed disease issue that does not exist here.  However, the State of Alaska, Board of Game, has the legal authority to remove domestic sheep and goats from the "clean list".  Should this proposition pass, it will seriously harm Alaska's food security-now and in the future. You can learn about the consequences by joining Alaska Goat Talk, or any other local farm Facebook group and asking (Check the blog for previous entries on this subject)  Please click the link below, to enter your comments before the October 27th deadline for comments for the November 10th meeting:

Please consider a copy paste to the offices of the Governor, and Lt. Governor as well:

And don't forget your representative and senator, they should know your stance on Prop 64.

$88.87 an hour!

That's the fee quoted for a recent FOIA request to the Division of Agriculture.  Oh, and after that's paid, then they'll check to see if there are any relevant documents or records that fit the request.  If it wasn't so blatant, it'd be amusing-the request would take only seconds for most of us, on our email accounts.  *Cough cough*  That's what is costs to drain the swamp in Alaska!

Side note: Were you aware that the State of Alaska has a "State Security Office"?  Surprise to us, too. Poke around on the State website, see what you can find.

Fall Harvest

After a number of warm and sunny growing seasons, Alaska returned to the cooler, wetter summers it is well known for.  What does this mean for Ag?  It meant a great growing year for hays and most forages. Unfortunately, it also meant that getting that crop dry was a serious, if not impossible challenge, for most.  For this reason, there are quite a lot of wrapped round bales around, if that is what you can feed. Dry, small squares? Not so much.  Many livestock owners will be burdened with purchasing from feed stores and importers this winter, adding to an already exorbitant feed bill. In previous years, widespread hay shortages caused a state of emergency of sorts, where import fees for Canadian hay was waived. With the steep decline across all sectors of the state economy, and an increase in feed costs, it stands to reason that some livestock will suffer over the course of the winter. It's a long time until next July, after all. 

Rumor Mill

Rumors persist that things are not going particularly smoothly at MMM&S. No word on the specific cause, but it may be related to our collapsing economy, or the (reportedly) abrasive nature of new ownership. Whatever the case may be, here's hoping they can weather the downturn and subsequent crunch, the same as his customers. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Alaska Ag.....Why Ag Matters

Not to trample on the Palmer radio program of the same name, folks.

No, this is about *why* agriculture matters here.

The hope

If you are a fan of eating daily, it will give you serious pause to consider the fact that over 95% of the food(s) consumed here in Alaska, are freighted in.  If it doesn't, it should.  This in spite of the BAC, and the Division of Agriculture, and the farming boondoggles of the past (Pt MacKenzie, Delta grain, the two dairy fiascoes, the seafood facility that is now Changepoint in Anchorage, and others). In spite of the land programs, the trusts that hold title, in spite of the explosive growth of local producers, etc.

The reality

Only a tiny fraction of lands can even be held in private hands in one form or another. Around 99 percent of our land is federal, state, or native allotment. Add in the amount gobbled up by the university (a land grant college) and mental health trust, and it leaves slim pickings indeed for anyone else.  With a state government who is dire need of cash to cover its bloated expenses, the very idea of promoting agriculture through inexpensive (or free) land lotteries or sales is preposterous.

Whether you are one in a succession of generational farmers/ranchers, or a cheechako who just wants to try to "grow something", you face the same challenges as everyone else: To persevere against adversity.  The short growing season, generally poor and cold soils, assorted pests (diseases, insects, and wildlife), the high costs of land, of growing supplies, of equipment, of it all. Foods that are easily grown in the verdant soils of the L48, can be impossible, or impossibly hard to do here.  Livestock production presents yet another set of unique and impossible conditions.....long cold winters that demand copious quantities of high quality forages and grains, if the end result desired is a physically mature animal. It is nearly an insurmountable obstacle in itself, just acquiring land to farm or ranch. But to raise those cattle and hogs (and sheep and goats, etc) requires land to actually be in production-while many acres sit fallow for a number of reasons.

Then there is the insurance issue. There is one single provider for the entire state, basically. You either conform to the underwriter's conditions, or not. No other options, and there has been no movement to correct this problem. Possible solutions might be creating a pool and then purchasing group policies, or addressing specific tort reforms in this state so the risks are lower, for example. Our market for insurance is tiny, compared to many states, and this is a handicap that cannot be overcome without a significant change.

There remain the financial challenges. While we have available the BAC, it is fraught with CBC members. Not being an FDIC entity, they do not need to adhere to "fair lending practices", and they don't. They will loan money to folks who have already gone bankrupt, or are in default, deny loans to people who they deem "unable" to farm according to their own yardstick of the moment, and by selecting only those who meet their ideals of industry, they hamstring agriculture overall. Commercial lending from banks is nearly impossible, due to the inherent risks of farming in general. If you intend on subdividing for profit, however, it is readily available.

The land banks are notoriously hard to work with.  In this state, there are only a few entities which have lands in significant amounts: The University of Alaska (a land grant college), the Mental Health Trust, and the Farmland trust are the major landholders. In theory, the university and mental health organizations should divest themselves of assets in times of financial distress-which we are experiencing today. In practice, land is seldom available from either of these, and when they are, it is at market value (read: assessed as for residential lots in most cases) and thus, out of reach of most folks wanting to follow the ag path. The FarmLand Trust is a little different, but there again, matching the right parcel to the entrepreneur can be a tedious process, and not always successful.

There is an entrenched perception across nearly all platforms, that "agriculture" somehow only constitutes row crops, forages, and grains.  If you have enough acreage with cattle, then you're somehow elevated into the "industry" category.  This is a simple summation of a complicated set of circumstances and ideals. There is an emphasis on sheer physical size, over determination and production that is different, or outside the pastoral acres of that normalized conception.  Breaking those perceptions is yet another challenge facing newcomers and those with new approaches and ideas about food production.

So it is no wonder Alaska is unable to feed itself, or even ten percent of the consumable foods imported into the state every year.  The obstacles are, in all practical purposes, insurmountable and immutable.  Once the inevitable occurs, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, of course.

Over 700,000 hungry mouths will speak with one voice:

We hunger, feed us!

And the state, and tiny agriculture community will respond: We cannot.

And then the blame and the finger pointing will commence, because we humans are a nasty species when faced with real, lasting adversity. We'll want to blame someone, anyone, for the failures of Alaska Ag. We'll expect and demand someone to rescue us, because that is what Americans do-we rescue the world, don't we?  Yet the collective will not see the possibility, the certainty of long term disaster sure to come, and will not help themselves. They surely will not aid in remedying the shortcomings of our "agricultural system" here in Alaska...because they give it no thought. The grocery store shelves are full to overflowing, and excesses are tossed away without remorse. In fact, even the food banks find slim pickings these days, as grocers are litigated into disposing of their surplus in landfills, instead of the hungry.

If you've never been truly hungry, you don't think about the scarcity that faces humanity across the globe, or here at home.  America might be the bread basket of the world (to borrow a famous snippet), but the farming acreage of Alaska is infinitesimal, comparatively.

And this is why Ag matters.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Alaska Ag......The Prop 64 Problem

Borrowing an infamous line from our cultural history......the $64 dollar question facing the Alaska agriculture community might be this:

Will the Alaska Board of Game outlaw domestic sheep and goats?

Proposition 64 (previously Prop90) has been resurrected, and will be addressed at the November meeting of the Board of Game. The specific proposal is here:  2017-2018 Board of Game Proposal Book    Under "Permits for Possessing Live Game" scroll down to Page 80 to read for yourself. This proposal was shelved last year, and re-emerges again for the upcoming meeting.

What has changed since the last time this topic came to the forefront of public attention?  Not much. The working group (consisting of local producers, a DOA observer, Alaska Farm Bureau member, AWSF and others) meets occasionally. Seemingly not much progress has been made, and little is heard, except to concede to controversial testing on a limited number of domestic sheep and goats. The methodology, and reporting, of these voluntary tests have created yet another fracture in the farming community. 

Without going over the details of the disease, or testing for m. Ovi, it helps to understand this: In the L48, m. Ovi has been blamed for the demise of herds, and major die offs within established ranges there. The actual science of this assumption has not been proven, since other factors are commonly present when m. Ovi seems to overcome or contribute to an animals' death.  In fear of the same fate happening to the treasured trophy sheep and goats in Alaska, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and it's Alaska chapter, are aggressively attempting to outlaw (literally) domestic sheep and goats. Because...well, guides/hunting lodges, and so on....and a wealthy client list of same.  What percentage of positive exposure tests, is acceptable to the sponsor of the proposal? Our bet: Absolutely zero. 

None of the wrong headed proposed requirements have any solid scientific backing, and in fact, the demand for a 15 mile "set back" from habitat is preposterous-when you remember that the state has not even established habitat or range.  15 air miles from where?  The tree line on our major mountain ranges?  Not an accurate boundary, proven as recently as last summer when one was seen in downtown Palmer-negating the "natural boundaries" argument as well.  Are domestic sheep and goats even co-mingling anywhere?  It's not known, although it might be argued that pack goats could, in theory, pose a risk.  But these Alaska flocks are not free ranged, as on grazing leases in the L48. Here, our predator risk is very high and very real. 

So, imagine the Alaska State Fair without sheep or goats.  No bright eyed, hard working 4-H kids with market lambs, rams, and goats.  No more goat milk soaps at all the small farmers' markets, no more succulent lamb chops, lovingly and carefully raised by people you know. No fiber arts from local fleeces, made into stunning outerwear and felted onto canvas.  No backyard does providing allergen free milk for families in need, And that's just for the 15 mile restriction. 

Think that's a crazy thing? Well, it is!  The proposed changes include state permits, mandatory testing, and double fencing, at minimum.  It will drive many families to abandon small livestock raising altogether, further hampering Alaska's ability to feed itself.  Removing domestic animals from the "clean list" is a very slippery slope, and could easily lead to seizure of private property in the future.....even other species.  Bird flu, anyone?

What is even crazier is that the DOA, yes, that agency-with it's carefully selected golden boy at the helm-is seemingly completely absent from any and all discussions about this matter. Yes, they have a "representative" at the *closed door meetings* the working group has....but there has been no hue or cry given, no alarm about eliminating an entire segment of Alaska farming, no nothing. Epic fail on the part of Dear Director. 

Also an epic fail, that the state even allowed 1) a working group in the first place, and 2) evidently allows a game board-with no farmers on it-to dictate to *all* residents on domestic livestock, and 3) Seemingly has no problem with all this happening behind closed doors.  

The testing mentioned above, is voluntary. Detractors are certain that *any* positive will give AWSF the ammo it needs to outlaw their domestic flocks. Supporters are fearful that if they don't join, the same result will occur. There is no Plan B, no other options, and no way to even force the Board, or anyone else, to even map or identify the "habitat" that wild sheep and goat occupy in the State.

Epic fail, all around. And no good outcome appears likely.   Of course, it would be wonderful if certain other Alaskans picked up clarion call of distress, and helped to fight back against Outside influences.  People like the owners of MMM&S, MQM, Rocket Ranch, MVM, even Denali Meat Co. Every slaughterhouse owner or investor, should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the local livestock producers. Every retail butcher shop owner should be as well....They *all* need the product our locals raise, especially for their ethnic customers. 

That too, will be an epic fail. 

So enjoy those photo ops and petting zoos while you can, because it is possible they will disappear from the Alaskan landscape forever, especially with the AWSF making sure that our more rural areas are declared "domestic free".  Because while the WSF, and it's Alaska chapter, are making sure the wheel is spinning with a "working group", they have been busy in the Bush, selling their fears to native groups. It's working, too.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Alaska Ag......Livestock Roundup

A short summation of recent events and ongoing issues:

1. MMM&S is still in operation, although the immediate future of "direct import to slaughter" is in doubt. It turns out that the state acquired permit could not be transferred along with the plants' assets. The new owner must re-apply, and after approval, can then start importing again. In the meantime, the new owner has gone out and about the state, boasting of great things to come. They have even taken to using the term "food security" on their advertising.

2. Denali Meat Company plans are unknown. There have been several members of the organization posting on local social media pages in recent weeks-but no details as to their progress with a formal opening has been mentioned. Their location is along the banks of the Matanuska River, not far from the endangered homes in the Sutton area.

3. The Alaska Food Policy Council, coming in late to the subject, is asking about local food hubs. There are already several up and running, with room for more growth.  If you are not sure what a food hub is, a quick google search will provide the general overview.  Think of them as the link between farm producer, retailer, and consumer in its most simplest form. The Alaska Food Policy Council, btw, does not include farmers or ranchers in any capacity.  Well rounded think tank? Ah, not even close....something to keep in mind as you read their pronouncements.

4. On the same day that MMM&S was having its import permit yanked (and a USDA inspector put on leave) the Dear Director of the DOA was happily singing the virtues of same, to an Anchorage radio host. Reportedly, the breathless praises were well received by at least the host. The irony was both amusing and disappointing.

5. Bogard Food Hub formally opened up for poultry processing this week. This is the second such business to address the explosion of poultry raising in the state in recent years. The Food hub is only open one day a week at this point, with the other (Frosty Meadow Farm & Poultry Processing) is open year round. Both are located in the Mat Su.  If food security even crossed the bows of the DOA, there would exist a large push for development of in state breeding of a meat type chicken. To date, no such effort exists except on the part of individuals, naturally....not "industry" enough to qualify?

6. The Dept of Fish & Game has listed yet another attempt to remove domestic sheep and goats from Alaska entirely. The Alaska Wild Sheep members, plus their national group, are behind this move to kill off a significant portion of Alaska farming. You can read the exact wording here (it is Proposition 64) Board of Game Proposed Regulations . Nowhere on the list was a proposed regulation or request to at least map and identify wild sheep/goat habitat.....Look for an upcoming blog post about this particular subject in the near future.

7.  Confusion still surrounds advertising and promotions of meat for sale in Alaska. Rumors persist that certain sectors are after state and/or federal subsidy, so they can increase their market share, relative to all those many tons imported as sides and cuts. More on this to come as well.

And finally 8. It's August. AKA as a month of hot tempers, irritation, and discontent...and it permeates the agricultural community here no less than anywhere else.  As small as our state is, we remain fractured into splinters, and could not unite for any reason-no matter how compelling the reason might seem to others. This distrust, unease, and outright hostility continues to hobble progress, for all.