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. 

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. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Alaska Ag......Current Events

Current world events have overshadowed other blog entries in progress.

If ever there was a reason to improve Alaska's food security, the clear and present danger that a nuclear North Korea presents, is it.  The bluster about Guam could easily be replaced with any city on the west coast of the US.

And that, friends, is where the primary risk exists.  Take out anything along the coast line, and our supply line is either severed, or severely curtailed immediately. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that any disruption in those containers arriving at Alaska ports, is going to create chaos in very short order.

It's widely reported that Alaska has about three days worth of food supplies on hand. Or, as a knowledgeable acquaintance once told me: We are 9 meals away from anarchy.  Yes, the state has emergency plans, but does not intend to feed you and your family in the event of emergency. Even so, the state advises at least a weeks' worth of food, water, and medicines should be kept on hand. (There is a list of suggestions on the state's emergency management page, for those interested) Designed with the idea of earthquake, volcano, or pandemic in mind, the suggestions and recommendations apply to any break in our very long supply chain as well.

It's a safe bet that many Alaskans are better prepared to face any coming challenge, than the average urban dweller in the L48. Pantries and freezers are relatively common, and most folks have cupboards with adequate supplies on hand to weather a few weeks-even if the selection thins and wears on the taste buds. 

But there are over 700,000 people here...our tiny agriculture "industry" (laughable on its face, simply due to scale) is incapable of feeding them all. Period, end.  We do not have the herds, the flocks, the dairies, the fields, the facilities to process our production. We do not have the hay and grain acreage necessary to significantly increase those animal numbers either. We do not have the infrastructure in place to move it, nor the capacity to preserve it.

Could we ever feed all these people?  Oh yes, we could, with enough time and resources. Would it be the modern diet Americans are accustomed to? Not even close!  And why can't we do that today?  Well, that would be a very long blog post on its own, and it's been covered here repeatedly.  In short, it does not matter in the current moment of time. Because it does not exist, and will not exist, until such time as the residents of Alaska demand it is done.

Alaska's food security will remain the elusive dream of worriers, planners, and concerned citizens for the foreseeable future. Alaska Ag is flatly not up to the task, and there are no means to rapidly expand capacity in response to calamity.

Got preps?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The DOA Mission Management

No conversation about Alaska Ag is ever complete, without touching upon the influence and performance of the DOA. 

If you recall, their mission statement is:

"The mission of the Division of Agriculture is to promote and encourage the development of an agriculture industry in the State"

Readers might find this link very interesting:

Ballotpedia entry: Alaska Director of Agriculture

Please note the Duties, as described. Now consider their mission statement above. Yes, just a little drift there *cough cough*.

We have seen numerous examples of how that promotion and encouragement is applied to those who have either kissed the ring of the Dear Director(s), enjoy the perks of the CBC of Ag, or kneel in front of the BAC, in supplication and no doubt a fair amount of trepidation.

For promoting agriculture, they have Farm to School, the producer's directory, and every photo opportunity Dear Director can manage. Management of the AlaskaGrown program has taken somewhat of a different path forward, in that much of their interactions with the people they serve has been limited to membership only social pages. The so-called marketing department manages to get Alaska farming into the news media, but seemingly only produce over protein the majority of time. As stated in the comments here, the AlaskaGrown program is rapidly losing whatever marketing advantage it had, due to lack of compliance enforcement. A tissue paper tiger, indeed.  This ineffective agency is the primary reason there exist so many other, effective and innovative groups, happily promoting agriculture in all ways. From think tanks to seed banks, social media pages to garden tours to food hubs, and everything in between....and it's all in spite of the DOA, and their limited assistance.

Yet they (DOA) do seem to devote quite a bit of their resources to denying FOIA requests, taking junkets for photo ops, starting programs done by other state agencies and employees (after specifically being told not to do so, btw) and abusing their access to limitless legal resources, among other extraneous activities.

There remains this pervasive fixation on "industry" over innovation, experimentation, new ideas, new methods, and new definitions of 'agriculture'.  Instead of serving as a creche for new farms and ranches and producers who are small, daring, and different, the DOA primarily serves as a "good old boys" club, whose roots stretch back before statehood, and whose reach extends into many MatSu royalty families.

There is also a blatant bias against ranches and livestock producers, and most folks on the Kenai or Interior would tell you that they might as well not exist, for all the "promote and encourage" they get from DOA.  The independent spirit that dominates the Alaskan culture, persists today in many areas, and agriculture is no exception. This is just a fact, most Alaskans want nothing to do with government. Therefore, their reliance and participation in anything the DOA does less than zero. They're of the "don't need them, don't want them, go away" mindset, and considering the poor reputation of the DOA, coupled with specious lending at the BAC, it's not surprising.  Is the State getting its money's worth there? Of course not.

When one hears the words "under the creative and innovative leadership of Director Keyes", one can be positive it was not uttered by the public. No indeed, that's a quote from a local ag recording, from a DOA employee, naturally.  There has been nothing new under the sun in Alaska Agriculture since he took office.....unless the numerous photo ops count?  Or perhaps the threats and screaming fits? Or the insistence on using state's legal resources at will, over a matter that turned to be false? Or perhaps the (rumored!) fancy schmancy new lock on the Director's door? Or the disregard of outright orders, pursuing programs the state already performs? Or the flip flopping over FSMA?  Or the legislative bill to begin charging for the use of the AlaskaGrown materials?

Or this development:  It seems Dear "creative and innovative" Director managed to sell Greg G a nice, attractive bill of goods on MMM&S. To wit: That the "direct to slaughter" permit (which the DOA acquired while still in state hands. aka as Dear Director's action, er, bait) was "grandfathered" to the new owner.  This is not true, and every such head of cattle imported and slaughtered since the sale closed was done so without a valid permit.  It's rumored that the plant is shuttered as of today, as the USDA decides what to do about the illegal operation(s) there.

A person wouldn't call any of that "creative and innovative", not any reasonable person with an IQ above.....potato.

(The PMC-Plant Materials Center-was not mentioned here primarily because it does produce readily quantifiable results. Are there issues there? Naturally. But their work is of value to many Alaskan residents-whether they realize it or not)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alaska Ag....Is there a food fight to come?

A person can speculate, but who knows what will happen in the end?

So, we've covered the (soon to be) three USDA slaughter plants that will operating in Southcentral. 

Currently, Mt. McKinley Meat & Sausage is the only facility open to the public, and a number of producers are pretty happy to see the plant in private hands.  The new owner also operates Rocket Ranch in Palmer on Lazy Mtn, and Mike's Quality Meats in Eagle River.  If you listen to local radio, chances are pretty good you've heard their ads, touting all sorts of meat, products and sales.

The coming MMM&S competition?  Not so much!

The competition (Denali Meat Company)  is owned, in part, by Nate Burris who operates Mat Valley Meats in the Valley, and Butcher Block No. 9 in Anchorage, a specialty butcher shop with an extensive line of products.  With no date released for the new plant as yet, it is a safe bet that DMC will process for these two businesses when it comes on line. 

ADN article on the subject here:  ADN article, 7-27-2017

And in the middle?

Why, the gentleman quoted in the article, one Scott Mugrage. He is a transplant who has landed big on the Alaska farming/ranching scene, who aided the Alaska Farm Bureau during the original privatization talks, and who likes rubbing shoulders with Governor Walker.  From his acreage in the Delta area, he supplies MVM (and they advertise Misty Mountain beef), which must be processed at MMM&S for that necessary-and sometimes problematic-USDA stamp.

Will he stay with DMC and MVM? Or jump onto the direct slaughter bandwagon at MMM&S and MQM to fill the need as owner Greg G describes?

Stay tuned, there is sure to be mischief and mayhem to come. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Alaska Ag.....MMM&S Numbers

As a product of the FOIA Administrative Appeal results, some interesting data comes to light.

First, it helps to know that in previous years, the number of processed animals has stayed relatively flat-averaging around 1,000 to 1,200 per year.   This was discovered by listening to the BAC meetings during the push to sell MMM&S.  Do keep in mind that none of these numbers will include custom exempt slaughter, or personal butchering.  The plant was originally built to process ten times that amount, but has never come close to that number. 

Of the time period between May 16th, 2016 to May 16, 2017:

A total of 1699 cattle and hogs were processed.  

Another 30 head (roughly) of "other" stock were processed also (Yak, elk, sheep, goat)

So that number is up significantly from previous years, and it's fairly safe to presume that the marketing efforts of Mike's Quality Meats and Mat Valley Meats are primarily responsible for the uptick. They have both entered into new enterprise (MQM with Rocket Ranch, and MVM with Butcher Block #9) and both have extensive marketing campaigns for their new ventures. 

Of that 1699, cattle accounted for 396 head, proving that hogs have a 3 to 1 market share over locally produced beef.  And, with the increase in processing capacity from the DMC plant coming online sometime in the future, there is plenty of room for solid growth going forward.

If you can swallow the processing fees, of course.

If there was ever any mystery as to why locally produced meats have such a high price tag, the above fee schedule from MMM&S should remove all doubt.  Not only is it insanely expensive to raise quality livestock here, the fees paid for that all important USDA stamp are steep indeed. 

Will competition help, or hinder our tiny livestock producers?

Only time will tell. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Alaska Ag.....Get yer popcorn, folks!

Looks like the reality show that is Alaska Ag is about to heat up-again.

Over the weekend, Todd Pettit (of Denali Meat Company) let it slip on Facebook, that Denali Meats not only has their USDA mobile slaughter unit, they will be installing a USDA approved cut & wrap unit as well. You can look up the principals with an interest in Denali Meat Co. online if you are so inclined.

He did not share the location. Or, when they might be up and running for the public-but he did say they'd be open to "all amenable and non-amenable" livestock.....whatever that means. Here's the screenshot of Todd's post:

It seems reasonable to conclude that some reservations at MMM&S will be cancelled, due to personal and business clashes with the new owner and their services to date.  And the reverse will no doubt be true as well:  Some will remain with MMM&S due to issues with the Denali Meat Co. principals. 

The impact of this new facility, in direct competition to MMM&S, will have wide ranging effects, no doubt. For the small livestock producer, it might prove to be a boon, in that perhaps there will not a lengthy bottleneck over the fall processing period. But it might well put MMM&S even further into the red.....remember, it failed to make money even using cheap prison labor for years. It's no doubt true that the new owner has, or is, modernizing what can be remedied, and no doubt finding those efficiency measures which eluded the State itself. Or, conversely, the market might prove that two plants in the same geographic area is not sustainable on any level-particularly financial. 

The Pt. MacKenzie plant remains closed to the public, so it's operation should not have any adverse effect on either of these two than it already has. 

(Note: The BAC loaned the money for the purchase of the plant which will be competing with MMM&S..... the wisdom of that we'll leave up to someone else)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alaska Ag......The Appeal Results

On July 12th, an email appeared from the DOA. This date is at the deadline allowed for response, although snail mail had been checked daily-just in case.

There were five attachments to the email, pdf files.

Four contained multiple pages in response to the administrative appeal.

There are over 100 documents in total, which will take some time to sort through, collate and arrive at a conclusion.

The takeaway here is this:

The DOA *knew* exactly what I was asking for on the first FOIA Open Records Request.  It was denied...."no such documents exist"

They still knew when they denied the second, more detailed FOIA Open Records Request.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out at whose direction those two denials were issued, does it?  Dear Director, naturally. Or whoever over there is pulling his strings.  This is how they exert power, and pick who wins and loses.

I got results when I followed statute, appealed in writing, making sure that a paper trail included DNR Commissioner Andy Mack, and DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels. I also included the relevant federal regulations, something that DOA *had* to have known to operate MMM&S.  I'd encourage everyone who was ever denied a FOIA request, to follow the same procedure. Especially if what you are asking for does not include personal information, and you are confident that the DOA does have the information you seek.

That said-

The contents are chronologically jumbled, the "kill reports" are a handwritten mess, and if this serves as "record keeping" for the DOA....well, let's just say it nicely "they have serious issues there". Curiously, some of the information was evidently housed at the Plant Materials Center, according to fax headers printed on the documents. No nice and tidy Excel spreadsheet here, of course. Nope, if you are attempting to make a determination about proceeding with livestock production, and need this basic background information (for decision making, for financing or business plan purposes) just shoot me an email, and avoid the stonewalling and excuses at DOA....I'll happily share.

Edited to add: The pdf files themselves.

DOA Appeal letter
Kill Report 1
Kill Report 2
Kill Report 3
Kill Report 4

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Alaska Ag.....Make that, AlaskaGroan

A reader supplied the tidbit that the DOA had updated its Facebook page for the AlaskaGrown program.   At first glance, nothing appeared to have changed, but after poking around a bit (and a hint from aforementioned reader) this was discovered:

(A copy and paste of the Note uploaded 7-10-17)

This is the official Facebook page of Alaska Grown and is managed by the State of Alaska, Division of Agriculture. This page was created to provide people who have any interest in the work of the Alaska Grown program, the ability to communicate with and access information about Alaska Grown and the Alaska Division of Agriculture. This page is monitored and managed by the Alaska Division of Agriculture. Comments posted by others on the Alaska Grown Facebook page are not necessarily the opinion of the Division or the State of Alaska, nor does the Division of Agriculture endorse any third-party comments on this page.
The Division of Agriculture welcomes a person's right to express his/her opinion and encourages commenters to keep posts civil and related to content on this page. Either posting on or “liking” this page constitutes an acceptance of the terms below. Please review these terms before posting:
• Alaska Grown reserves all rights to remove and/or block any posts or any commenter/friend at the Division of Agriculture’s discretion.
• Alaska Grown shall particularly remove and/or block any post or any commenter/friend for inappropriate or offensive comments/posts, including, but not limited to material which: 1. defames, abuses, harasses, stalks, threatens or violates the legal rights of others,
2. suggests racism, hatred, slander, obscenity, violence, vulgarity,
3. includes any personal information about another person which may violates one’s privacy interests,
4. includes copyrighted material belonging to another person,
5. contains links to websites which the Division of Agriculture deems inappropriate or offensive,
6. ALL spam or advertisements.
The acceptance of a friend invite between Alaska Grown members and a citizen does not indicate endorsement of that person's actions or comments. Following approval of the Division of Agriculture, others may be allowed to post photos or videos on Alaska Grown’s page. If you have photos or videos you'd like to share on this page, contact Alaska Grown at and provide evidence of your copyright ownership or license from the owner.
All postings to this page become the property of the Alaska Division of Agriculture and are subject to all applicable federal and state law. This includes, but is not limited to, any applicable federal and state criminal and intellectual property laws.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Alaska Ag....The DOA Sobriquet

Once again, email and messages arrived, concerning the use of "DOA" on this blog.

The State of Alaska, Division of Agriculture, has been nicknamed here "DOA" since day one.

It has never meant, not once, the Department of Administration of the State of Alaska.  

Whatever whimsical or punny or hilarious phrase springs to mind when 'DOA' is read, is up to the reader to apply.....we've heard a number over the past couple of years ourselves. 

In fact, if you have one-feel free to share it with your fellow readers.

We'll start with this one:

The Dept. Of Angst

>insert appropriate smiley face here<

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The Large Divide

The yawning chasm of professionalism in Alaska state government Ag, is best exemplified by two state agency publications. 

First, let's look at the latest newsletter from the DOA:

Second, take a peek at what the Office of the State Veterinarian published:

Some would say this is comparing apples to oranges.  That's laughable when a person remembers how much effort the DOA has put into snaring the OSV and its complex, wide ranging, and important programs and works. 

Just how well do you think a part time dirt farmer would do, managing the OSV?

About as good a job as they do producing that newsletter linked above. Please note carefully what they are actually doing, not what they are waving pom poms over.

*cough cough*

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Alaska Ag......The Appeal


Tiani Heider
7479 W Born Lazy
Wasilla, Alaska  99623


State of Alaska
Division of Agriculture
Central Office
Director Arthur Keyes
1800 Glenn Highway, Suite 12
Palmer, Alaska  99645

Subject: Administrative Appeal
  2 AAC 96.340. Appeal from denial: manner of making

Director Keyes-

Per the statute referenced above, I am appealing the Freedom of Information Act denial I received on June 20th, 2017, regarding DAG 17-028 Public Records Request.

The denial was authored by
Lora Haralson
Administrative Officer I
Division of Agriculture
Central Office
1800 Glenn Highway, Suite 12
Palmer, Alaska 99645

The records requested were originally described as “copies of USDA pen cards, or similar”. During a follow up communication, a further description was provided to the Division.

It has since come to my attention, that the Division does, indeed, have both hard copies, and computer files for these documents. MMM&S called them “check in” cards, and the Plant Manager (among others) filled them out as animals arrived at MMM&S. One copy went to the producer, one to the USDA, and one to the Division of Agriculture. In addition, this information was entered into a computer on a daily basis during normal operations.


These records are federally mandated to be retained, under FSIS and HAACP regulations. For the HAACP that the Division has on file, records are required under 9 CFR 417.5 - Records.  (and others, for HAACP)  as well as FSIS 9 CFR 310.2 (a) and related regulations. All of these regulations specifying required compliance for record keeping can be found online at the related agency, or in the Federal Register..

I remain confident that the Division does, in fact, have these documents in their possession.  Since the data I requested did not include any specific personal producer information whatsoever, I am certain that my FOIA request was wrongfully denied.


CC: Andrew T. Mack, Commissioner, DNR
        Ed Fogels, Deputy Commissioner, DNR