Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Alaska Ag: The Truth about MMM&S

Like a snarled up mess of broken fishing lines, lures, and weights you reeled in from the Kenai River or Willow Creek....the truth about Alaska Ag is about like this:

Yes, a huge snarl and figuring out which rope to pull to find that truth is a frustratingly aggravating endeavor.  There are so many lines and players here, so many enemies, frenemies, and well meaning do-gooders, it's a wonder anything can be found out all-because no one is talking to anyone. Well, a correction: If you are the "right person" with the "right bonafides" then yes you can learn a lot. If you aren't? Well, too bad and don't bother anyone with silly questions. There are more factions here than any place in the Middle East of similar geographical area, and that *is* a truth.  The fate of Mount McKinley Meat & Sausage processing plant in Palmer is a crucial issue facing Alaska Ag. Without its cornerstone presence, the dirge for Alaskan grown meats might as well continue playing and all that will be left is planting roses in remembrance of what could have been. As it stands, there are numerous people involved, or wanting to be involved in the plant. 

Let's run just a few up the flag pole and salute their involvement, shall we?

First there are the three supervisory employees managing the plant. Yes, three managers. Whether this is appropriate, no one seems to know but all agree, at least a part of their function is to supervise those inmates.  Their competency does not seem to be in doubt (except on the business end) but my oh my, they can work both sides and the middle when necessary. They must see the writing on the wall and are angling to stay employed (and who wouldn't be, in this economy?) and aren't afraid to throw a few handfuls of mud about, hoping some will stick. These are the guys who assisted with the construction of the facility at Rocket Ranch, provide freezer space to special customers at no charge and who may, just may, have committed a bit of malfeasance. They're in a tough position, no doubt, but have not been under the microscope of public scrutiny long enough.

There is Denali Meat Company, whose formation was no surprise to those who knew about the Alaska Farm Bureau independent study. The AFB paid a lot of money for this excellent report, and it will no doubt serve the partners well when they submit their application. In addition, DMC is rumored to have asked for more money to fund a lobbyist. At first, I could not imagine what they'd need a lobbyist for-until it was remembered that the plant was built to a large economy of scale originally (That is, they process at around ten percent capacity annually as it stands today) and the only way to rapidly increase the carcasses going through the plant is to import them. Voila!  A need for a lobbyist materializes, since that person could advocate on their behalf, for a loosening of current import regulations. Import the cattle, finish them in Alaska to butcher weight, process, and slap a "Alaska Grown" sticker on the package. Bazinga! Alaska Ag is a success!

There is the BAC, whose power and threads reach everywhere into Alaska Ag. This is the group who allowed the former Director to say: A large animal veterinary clinic is not "agriculture".  The Chair also voted on Arthur Keyes' selection to the Governor (when the DNR commish was in disagreement) and most recently...was only stopped from taking the principals of the DMC into Executive Session by the astute actions of a fellow (attorney) member. The guys with DMC really want to plead their case and "discuss matters" off the public record. Presumably, this will now take place via back channels.

There is the mysterious Rocket Ranch, who still does not exist according to the state business and corporate licensing (for the second year). We'll presume no Borough business license either, but regardless, they have hung their sign, and are busily raising hogs. They are owned, at least in part, by Mike's Meats in Eagle River. They have a custom exempt plant up there on Lazy Mountain, the one that the MMM&S employees aided in seeing to fruition. It is speculated that this plant could easily be upgraded into a USDA facility for re-sale cuts...in which case there will be competition for MMM&S.

There are a couple of rumored alternatives being kicked around by enterprising individuals. Because no names have been attached, no speculation is warranted. The BAC is going to open up for public comments on MMM&S at the end of the coming month.

The today, the local Frontiersman newspaper posted an article about this subject:

http://www.frontiersman.com/news/group-hopes-to-get-meat-plant-out-of-the-red/article_0f9d33fa-d9be-11e5-a5cd-1b8062583bac.html   (Sorry, you have to click an answer to read the content)

In the article, it is clearly stated by DMC President Nate Burris that the plant won't be "a lucrative endeavor". Followed by this statement by Ernie Diamond (a former MMM&S manager who now holds a 25 percent stake in the new venture of Denali Meat Company):
“Everybody’s going to make more money and everybody’s going to succeed, if this works for us.”

From the outside, it looks as though it's likely that there will be two USDA plants, at least for a short while. One of those will be on very shaky footing, requiring another year of State subsidy (line of credit), a change in import regulations, and support from the legislature to make that happen. This alone proves that they are underfunded from the start and are on very uncertain ground, whatever their collective expertise.  Either one could easily just be "booked solid" for any producer, at any time. This is the real risk of privatization and the warring factions within the Ag community here.

And again......where does this leave the small producer?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Alaska Ag: The joke's on us......


Coming as no surprise whatsoever to the interested observer, the small producer, the hobby farmer, the homesteader, and the easily amused.......

Arthur Keyes beat out Tony Knowle's son for the Director of Agriculture position. Hope he enjoys that $121,000 a year job...while somehow still running all the things he bragged about doing in his letter of interest. Being Ben VanderWeele's son-in-law was no impediment *cough cough*

Also coming as no surprise, is the formation of a brand new baby LLC, known as "Denali Meat Company".  The four individuals named have equal partnership percentages, but only one has true retail business experience-that would be Mr. Burris, current owner of Mat Valley Meats here in the Mat Su. The rest are farmers, including, (ironically) one Todd Pettit, another "anointed by marriage" farm royalty member. Todd is the guy who publicly stated several times that he had no interest in the MMM&S plant whatever. He didn't use it, didn't plan on it, but felt it was important to all farming. You'll find Todd listed as a partner, although what part of the new venture he's going to help with is unclear.  Terry Van Whye is listed too, he is a large pork producer up the Glenn Highway, with plans to expand. The final member is an unknown, perhaps he is the money man? And lest you think all these twisted ties are coincidental, it comes to light that the attorney for the partnership is none other than former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell.  Yes, really. 

Seemingly, Denali Meat Company appeared at the BAC meeting yesterday. They hogged the microphone (not allowing others their three minutes) and at least once, attempted to move their conversation into "executive session". That's illegal, if you don't have loan matters to discuss-just so you know. And to our knowledge, Denali Meat does not yet have a loan with the ARLF. Keep in mind they were just formed January 5th, and got their business license on February 11th. It's assumed they'll submit a proposal to the BAC to take over MMM&S. Of course, they aren't smart enough to go for a five year lease (it takes about five years to establish a small business, say the experts) so they're asking for a single year. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that MMM&S will end up back on the cutting board at BAC/Div. of Ag before long. 

And just where does that leave the small producer?