Friday, November 6, 2015

Alaska Ag: too many sides

In thinking through what has been said and discussed on social media, what has made it through editing for news reports, and what can be gleaned from other conclusion stands above the rest when it comes to Alaska Ag, and MMM&S in particular:

There are many players.

Definitely as many as there are organizations, policy makers, movers and shakers, and interested parties. Breaking it down roughly, we find these major angles:

 1. Farmers with ARLF loans who are footing the bill. Since day one, they have accepted loss after loss after loss, due to mismanagement, or market forces, or whatever. They are the ones shouldering the entire loss, in the form of the interest they pay on their loans. (While this makes a great point, that MMM&S does not cost the State of Alaska a dime, it does not address the burden on the roughly 90 farmers who are forced to pay for those losses)

2. Farmers/producers who are attempting to get something done from the inside-that is, the system itself.  These are the folks who sit on boards and committees of various organizations, who know the issue very well.

3. The discontented ignorant, who want to slash all funding for Ag, period, whatever the fallout. On this side are some politicians-and I call them ignorant because they do not seem to know #1 above.

4. The up in arms, small producers/consumers who are just becoming really aware. They see the USDA plant as *necessary*, and not just to their livelihood. They are not welcomed by sides 1, 2, or 3.

5. Concerned newbies. They may not understand why closing the plant is bad idea, but they know that any facet of agriculture that is shuttered, is bad for everyone. They are new to Alaska, have no idea who the movers and shakers and policy makers are, and have no hope of obtaining funding from any local source. (Even though that would spread the burden among more borrowers)

6. The politician/policy maker who knows the facts, and chooses to use the plant as a political football to score points. They make policy by sound bite, have no time or inclination to listen to remedies unless it comes through "the process", and in this time of fiscal disaster, know they must appear to be budget hawks where it doesn't matter. That would be Ag, of course. 

7. The side that tried to pull together to work up a solution that will keep the USDA certification and the plant up and running. They don't want anyone else mucking around, and all the rest of the Johnny-Come-Lately folks should just get out of the way. They know what they're doing, convinced their plans and ideas are better than....well, everybody else.

8. The group(s) that liken themselves to *the* policy makers, who want to work in conjunction with whatever crumbs the State allows, and whatever the "stakeholders" will agree with. They too, have no ear for the humble, small producer/grower, since their focus is industry.

9. And finally....the many smaller growers/producers who have no idea what is happening with the USDA plant known as MMM&S. These folks are too busy working hard to pay attention to the many players, the organization memberships and their boring meetings, the myriad of programs and their administrators. Too busy actually.....farming, to worry about what they know they cannot change.

Who has been overlooked in the list above?

Why, everyone else who consumes food within the State of Alaska, that's who. Because while the majority surely do not consume locally produced meats or vegetables today, they will be relying on every single producer, should some interruption of Alaska food supply occur.  This all circles back around food security......something many have forgotten in the divisive nature of the discussion surrounding the closing of one single USDA certified plant in Palmer, Alaska.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The bigger picture.....Alaska Ag

Or perhaps this should be titled:

                              Alaska Ag.....past, present, and future? 

To understand what is happening now, one needs to examine what occurred in the past. And to grasp the realities of the future, one only needs to look at any other isolated population around the world....democratic republic or not.

In short, Alaska had nothing but huge farming potential from the arrival of settlers who understood the possibilities of our unique growing conditions. With our midnight suns and volcanic-ally blessed was ripe (pardon the pun) for use. And use they did, from the first dream seekers to land upon Cook Inlet shores, to the trainloads of Midwestern immigrants in the 30s, to fortune chasers of the 70 and 80s, and so on to the exploding growth in local food and population we have today. 

By the time of statehood, the farming community in South Central was well established. A certain number of families had, over the preceding decades, made a niche for their product, intermarried, consolidated, founded businesses, and eyed the incoming newcomers with some suspicion. Even today, if you don't have ties that predate Statehood, you have....shall we seat at the table.

Then came the oil boom, which leads us today. The oil boom brought riches to many, and that included farmers who sold off lands for retirement, and gave birth to the three huge boondoggles that will forever blacken the eye of Alaska Ag: The Delta Barley Project (with the grain terminal in Seward),  Pt. MacKenzie Agriculture Project, and the Matanuska Maid Dairy collapse. The fourth disaster is the closing of MMM&S.

So this will leave us with a bleak future.  No cattle, no dairy, no grain, no hay, no large scale dairy plant, no USDA certified processing facility. And most lands cut up into subdivisions, peopled with the remnants of the American dream (Alaska version).

Oh there will be vegetables, yes of course. But even so, with no state support, no advertising campaign, and a relatively blind consumer base, it will struggle along at the less than 5% of foods consumed for the foreseeable future.

And one has to wonder:

Why?  Why, with the blessings this state has, will there be no way for the state to feed itself?  Why are there no new hay fields to replace those lost to development and government seizure?  Why has dairy not been allowed to flourish here, since Mat Maid closed?  Why are there no cattle herds? Why are there no dairy herds? Why will there be no state controlled USDA plant in South Central? And more importantly.....who are the players these conditions benefit?

As was said in a previous entry, and worth repeating again:

Who will feed your family, when the proverbial fat lady sings and Ag is dead?