Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alaska Ag....that's some cachet

Cachet.....the first thought that may come to mind is the Matchibelli perfume of the same name. But in this case, they (Mike's Quality Meats) likely thought of this other definition:

"A quality of prestige or appeal" or similar. Whichever they were aiming for with the bucolic, sun drenched pastoral scenes, and snippets of happy, clean swine in the television ads, the reality is something quite different. 

They certainly do not reflect the lasting impression Rocket Ranch is having on their neighbors.

No, no, no, like Pepe' LePew of cartoon fame, the miasma of reeking piles of animal waste permeate the area. This clear cut property, with it's barns, fencing, shop, and no onsite caretaker, has truly, and literally, become a big stinker.

The reality of a CAFO on Lazy Mountain, just outside of Palmer, was not something that property owners had any notice about. The area is "rural, farming" only in that the parcels are slightly larger than the average subdivision (5 to 40 ac is common) mostly populated with a mix of retired and working folks who enjoy their privacy-with the occasional group or assisted living residence. Well known for its panoramic views, quiet, and yes, the howling scourge of Matanuska winds, people enjoy the feel of remoteness from the Valley floor and its busyness. Farm trucks are not uncommon as they make their way through the twists and turns to the larger farms further back towards the canyon and beyond. 

Trucks hauling 100s of hogs have now joined the ebb and flow of traffic.

Of the over 2,300 hogs imported by Mike's Quality Meats/Rocket Ranch/Greg Giannulis over a 16 month period (ending last year) only 867 were processed at MMM&S over the same period, according to a FOIA request fulfilled recently.  Providing that the figures supplied are correct-and there is no reason to doubt their validity-that means roughly 1400 swine have been processed through the Rocket Ranch custom exempt plant on Lazy Mountain. This is the plant that state employees helped to construct on their time off from MMM&S. Custom exempt is a classification that allows for onsite slaughter and processing after purchase, as long as the buyer has the resulting cuts marked "not for resale".  It's no stretch to say that the custom plant is paying off handsomely for MQM, and the customers. 

Except, of course, for Rocket Ranch neighbors. There is a legal limit to the hog waste that can be stored on the property, and it is substantial. The neighbors have no idea how they are handling all the waste generated, such as soiled bedding, the blood generated from slaughter, the entrails, and whatever else is created during processing. At MMM&S, this was handled by their waste water system and established, monitored procedures, but on Lazy Mountain? Who knows. Perhaps it is buried. Maybe it's tossed into a dumpster. But what is known, is that the property has literally chased people indoors due to the reeking stench, and that several wells and septic systems nearby have coincidentally failed. Are they connected for sure? That is unknown-but when the smell prevents a property owner from enjoying their property....that is cause for remedy.

According to statements the caretaker has made, there have been no complaints about the operation. But that is not accurate, not true at all. There have indeed, been many complaints made. To various state and borough offices, elected representatives, to other residents, to anyone who will listen.

In the Mat-Su Borough, Title 24, it's known as an "annoyance". Naturally, the regulation is written with the supposition that newcomers might find farms offensive (and this statute protects farms and their activities).....not the actual facts here where the new farm is creating the problem. Whether Rocket Ranch is violating statute there is up to Animal Control and Regulation office to determine. Wading through state and federal regulations is a tough slog, but there may be solutions to be found there as well.

This matter of a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) operating within sight and sound and particularly smell, of residential homes will no doubt arise more frequently, now that the MMM&S slaughter plant has moved into private hands, to be sure. 

You have to wonder though, about an unknown number of animals, unattended, on that property. Yes, unattended. There is no full time, onsite caretaker, although a young Giannulis is reportedly there every day. While their style of management may be within the statute of animal care regulations, it does give area residents more cause for concern. The wheels of government move excruciatingly slow, to be sure. But they do move. And if that does not suffice, there is always civil redress to consider. 

Whatever the outcome on Lazy Mountain, one thing is for sure:

Come spring, "Eau de Pigs" is sure to be wafting through the air. And downwind neighbors are sure to be very unhappy.

(Edited to add:  An alert reader let it be known that there is, in fact, onsite supervision 24/7. Thanks much for the email correction, it's appreciated!) 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Alaska Ag....So, about that sustainability plan

That 2009 sustainability plan that was crafted with input from across the farming spectrum by the various state agencies and industry folks, is a perfect example of what is amiss at the Division.

It is basically shelved except for data collection and updating the report.

The Division will tell you that their time is worth $56 an hour and change (if your FOIA is in excess of five hours) so how much has been wasted with that ridiculous plan?  How many hours are expended collating that data, writing the reports, updating the charts...on a plan (outline, really) that has produced zero results?

If the plan is referred to with derision and mocked among the employees at the Division, you can be certain it has no credibility within the Ag community either. This waste, is just one tiny facet of what is wrong with Alaska Ag on the Division side. Once the program was put forward, it continues on into the future, without considering whether it provides real value to the citizens of the state.

The 2002 legislative audit was a scathing indictment of management, and it seems no progress has been made since.

Read the audit yourself...and consider where the Division is now, 15 years later:

Of course, any audit is only as good as the oversight and attention it receives from the legislature, and the public. The last one produced no fundamental changes or improvements, because...well, because they do things the way they've always been done, naturally.

Time for another legislative audit, don't you think?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Alaska Ag....Every producer's dilemma

One of the most difficult challenges facing agriculture producers statewide, is a lack of infrastructure.

Now, this can mean anything between access to a dirt airstrip for Bush freight, to our pitifully small paved road system, to ferry and barge service along our marine and inland waterways. But it also means the capacity for specialty storage, handling, packaging, freight forwarding, and a whole host of speed bumps that stymie small to medium food producers in the state. 

Say you've managed to grow a bumper crop. As it stands now, you must harvest as much as possible and find a way to get it into your customers' hands as soon as practical. This may mean leaving the farm to attend farm and garden markets, make deliveries, or perhaps supply various restaurants and specialty vendors.  By the time you've managed all of that, the peak of ripeness is rushing past and with no way to properly store the rest....well, it's been said that as much as 40 percent of the produce grown here, is wasted in the field for this reason. 

A shame and a troubling waste of perfectly edible food, isn't it?  

The solution to this dilemma is called a "Food Hub". It is the remedy to the daunting, complex problem facing numerous small and medium producers. 

Here in Southcentral, an experienced CEO is offering his services and facility to the farming community.  This facility has dry, chill and freeze areas...and they can be customized to your specific needs. It includes a DEC approved kitchen area, as well as warehouse racking for palletized goods. 

Anyone who has looked over their fields and calculated the lost income of wasted produce, should consider this solution. The operation will be a member co-op, with professional management.


Bogard Logistics

Terry Smith


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Alaska Ag....Starting the new year right

First out the gate:

A correction. It has been made public, that the Division of Agriculture does indeed, have a "plan". It has a very lofty title "Building a Sustainable Agriculture Industry" and was published January, 2009.

Here is the direct link to the 27 page report:

Since it's formal publication date, just how is the Division progressing on this goal?  Well that takes more digging (and hat's off to the intrepid local Master Gardener who found these two items online and shared the links) but it is located on the OMB section of the state website-not exactly intuitive and easy to find, is it? 

Direct link to the performance report:  

So, the Division does have a master plan. Performance evaluations of that plan are published, as reflected by the reports on the Office of Management and Budget section. Cheerleaders and critics both, should read the entire report-perhaps several times, to gain an understanding of the master plan. And then, use their own judgement when reviewing the performance reports. Kudo's to former Director Franci Havemeister for authoring the proposal, and seeing it adopted by the state. 

Reading these well crafted, carefully parsed and edited reports, is better suited to those who can sift through .govspeak to the inferred intent. Can you grok it?  Can the public?  Would they even care?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 for Alaska Ag

Allow for the quasi-legal disclaimer: This blog is opinion. It is as factual as can be ascertained, and where question arise, the veracity (or lack thereof) of the information relayed is clearly stated.  Consider the content as a sort of citizen journalist's way of disinfecting the slimy underbelly of Alaskan Agriculture.

This blog fully intends on becoming more pointed, more aggressive and less conciliatory in the year to come. If you need a safe space for your sensibilities, snowflakes are encouraged to click back to safer havens. 

If the blog entries bring you to new conclusions, sheds new light on buried scandal or malfeasance, and widens the scope of your understanding (whether you agree or not) then it will have served well, all participants in agriculture in Alaska.

You've been warned!