Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Alaska Ag......Plucked Again

In the scramble to make a buck in Alaska agriculture, many folks have tried various business models, inventive production techniques, attempted new crops and a wide range of assorted scams and dubious transactions have all had their place here. Sometimes, the only way to tell the difference is by the trail of victims left behind.

One such victim is a relatively unknown supporter of Alaska ag, who is, in his own right, an astute businessman with many years of successful history in the corporate world.  Just how this otherwise perceptive individual fell prey to one of our shining champions of locally grown, is unknown.....but fall he did:

Over 2,600 whole frozen chickens, abandoned into his care. And he is has been (reportedly) plucked himself, to the tune of over $90,000.00. The local champion has recently posted on social media that "their visions no longer" matched or words to that effect.  I have no doubt that the business man wanted to get paid for his services and investment, and the producers (who may or may not be paid) were sure that their hard work was happily sold into the fast growing Anchorage market.  But the truth is in the photos here, and tell a different story.

However, take a close look at this label:

A simple bar code does not an inspected chicken make.  Despite oral claims and fancy sales pitches, the co-op does not meet any USDA standard. And in fact, many of the weights are wrong, many by nearly four ounces.

The requirements for actual exempt labeling are:

So, there you have it. 2,600 improperly labeled, improperly weighed chickens, evidently produced *without* a ready market.  If there had been a ready market, they would not exist.....proving that the ground work for local poultry was not adequately researched, and that either the price point is beyond the market, or the demand for this specific product does not meet production-or a combination of all three.

Plucked, indeed, and a mighty shiner on the face of our local champion.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The Devil is in the Details

If former President Reagan is is known for his famous quote: I'm from the government and I'm here to help"  then it should be added  "....and the devil is in the details".

In reviewing Governor Walker's proposed 2019 budget, it took just a little digging to find the documents relating to the DOA. (Division of Agriculture)  If you are adventurous, there are a number of pdf files available through the Department of Natural Resources webpage. These multi-page entries can be a bit tiring to sift through, we suggest the detail and the change record files as starting points.  It is entirely likely that there is more data for the DOA on the DNR proposed budget list, since the manner in which these positions and departments and activities are funded is complex and can be confusing.

A few facts:

The DOA has, at the Southcentral Region offices, a total of 17 positions.  According to their website as of December 27th, they currently have 3 vacant positions. 

The DOA has, at the Palmer area Plant Materials Center, a total of 13 positions, 2 of which are vacant.

The DOA has, at the Northern Region office, 3 positions, of which one is vacant.

So that is 33 positions (sometimes known as PCNs, the short moniker assigned by the state) and of those, 6 vacant positions. On the surface, this appears as a reduction in personnel, a tightly run division where the public is still being served well. Again, the devil is in the details. 

Departments and divisions jealously guard each and every PCN they have. The reason?  There will hopefully come a time in the future when every position is fully funded. A fully funded organization can then plead the need for more PCNs to meet increased demand...and thus, government always grows, and never truly shrinks.

They can also simply decrement (love that guvspeak, don't you?) positions into new ones, by assigning the funding to a newly created or renamed PCN.  In this way, the organization stretches into nooks and crannies of public service it was never meant to go.

In the 2019 proposed budget, the DOA intends to decrement and in the end, create two new positions (in addition to the job the closed earlier this week, presumably)  The new position is called "the state veterinarian"  Now, it is not clear whether this is literally a behind the scenes move to place the Office of the State Veterinarian (currently occupied by the exemplary Dr. Robert Gerlach at the Department of Environmental Conservation) or the creation of a new "state veterinarian" under the auspices of the DOA.  We suspect the latter in this case. Dr. Gerlach has made clear in previous legislative sessions that he must and should remain at ADEC where his work can continue, he has excellent staff, and the support he needs to perform those duties.

This new "state veterinarian" will have "Development Specialist" for assistance. With what, exactly, is not explained in print. There is talk of livestock, and importing and exporting, but what the actual job duties are? Well that, one of those "the devil is in the details"  things. Who knows? The funding for these two positions will come from a surplus in the Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund component. 

However, one must not forget the Golden Boy's desire to mimic the Department of Agriculture in other states-nearly all of whom do have state veterinarians on staff. And one must not forget his desire to make the DOA a regular Department within state government. 

To understand, even in part, of what this means for our livestock producers, one should keep this in mind:

The State of Alaska already has an Office of State Veterinarian.  

That Office is already fully involved in one of the most pressing issues facing livestock producers, which is the Alaska Wild Sheep Foundations' continued efforts to make owning sheep and goats illegal within state borders. (And don't think the Board of Game sides with our protein growers-they do not. Look for the AWSF to push legislation in Juneau this coming session)

That Office already has excellent rapport with importers of livestock, a great working relationship with many Alaskans pursuing animal husbandry here in Alaska, and has experienced, trained staff at hand to perform inspections, etc. 

Now, ask yourself this.....for what purpose would another "state veterinarian" serve the DOA?  What regulation by pen would that person generate? Because you can be sure, that as soon as that person is on staff, the legislation for statutory authority to regulate will follow....because it's logical, if for no other reason. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alaska Ag.....That 20/20 Hindsight

Finally functional after a long period without a working computer. Whew!

(Report for previous post: The Board of Game took no action on the proposal to effectively outlaw sheep and goats for the time being-more to come on this subject in the future)

In the course of writing this blog, many people have reached out to share all sorts of information, or rumors, or just to bully this author.  Between the emails and phone calls, texts, lunches, and other interactions, seldom is offered such a damning example of ag malfeance as this:

The above scanned images originate from a three fold brochure provided by a reader quite some time ago.  Very fancy, isn't it?  According to the person who shared this, the cost was approximately $500,000 to MatSu Borough tax payers to see the project end at the brochure.  The Boro did the research, obtained (or leased, not sure) the property, created the brochure....and then funding disappeared. The land chosen ended up being used for what is now the school district commercial kitchen, which is seemingly another complicated, sideways story all on its own.  Crafted in the heady days of high oil prices, and sorely needed to spur agricultural growth, it turned out to be yet another state (Matanuska Susitna Borough in this case) government boondoggle.....just not one costing into the millions. 

It's a shame that this "Economic Development Project" was never completed. Such as facility would be a tremendous asset to the Borough, and its citizenry.  And might have served to set the stage for a serious look at export markets....since the producers all know that one of the major missing links to sustained growth is a processing center like the one described above. In hindsight, the other expensive boondoggles (such as the ferry fiasco) gobbled up excess revenues, and left Ag by the wayside. Again. 

Do you suppose they have a file gathering dust in Palmer, that a more forward thinking, enterprising individual could review?  

(Edited to add a link to the 2008 report on the subject)

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.