Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alaska Ag......About that FSMA thing

Today, another guest post. This one describes in some detail, the DofAg's attempt to subvert statutory authority over food safety.  Once again, this is unedited.


I’d like the opportunity to share some information about the issues brought up in the previous blog (Earth Day), because there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the truth is. I’ll address some specific things in the blog that I know about and can clarify. If readers want more information, they can find it here. If they don’t, they can quit reading I guess. The following is factual info that might be helpful to folks who are not familiar w/ Division of Ag programs and want to know more.

I worked as an inspector at AG for 7 yrs. I did commodity (fruit & veg) inspections, organic assistance, COOL audits, voluntary GAP food safety audits, and outreach. I developed and presented food safety workshops also, and did 15 workshops around the state from 2012 to 2014. About 6 years ago I got involved voluntarily in getting the state ready for FDA’s FSMA Produce Safety Rule because it would be implemented in the state whether growers were ready or not. At the time, we knew it was going to be a small program because most farms would be exempt in Alaska. And since DEC has statutory authority for ALL food safety in the state (and still does, see Attachment #1) the plan was to do an MOU and have me do the FSMA work out of the AG office, since I was the only one in the state who was familiar with it and qualified. It is true, by the way, that FSMA is a regulatory program – it really is not about farming. Saying it should be housed at AG because it involves farms is like saying the DEC Drinking Water regulatory program belongs housed in the local water and wastewater utility because it’s about water. It doesn’t work like that.

I moved to the DEC Office of the State Vet a year and a half ago. Because I had been the only person in the state working on FSMA (and because they had authority for it) I offered to voluntarily take the program with me to DEC and do that work too, along with my other new job duties. No extra pay, no more power, I just wanted to ensure a smooth transition for the program and the growers that I care about, and try to save some money for the state.

When I left the Division of Ag I told management, and also later told the new Director, Arthur Keyes, that I was planning to do FSMA from DEC when I left, as I was already trained and certified, and was the only person in the state who knew anything about the program. I also advised them not to rehire my inspector position, as it wasn’t necessary. I told the Division of Ag that pretty much all the other programs I had been assigned to as an inspector there (including the GAP food safety audits) were wasting huge amounts of state money for little to no return, or could be reconfigured and the position eliminated. I thought that in a budget crisis, it would make sense to let the management know this and do what I could do to try and reduce some costs. The former manager and former Div of Ag Director agreed, and they had planned to shelve those programs and not rehire the inspector position after I left. The primary inspections that I had hired on for (routine commodity inspections) are no longer being done, and maintaining the program and certification for two staff was costly. And the voluntary GAP food safety audit program alone was costing the state over $40,000 per year, and recouping about $250 a year to cover those costs.  It benefitted exactly two growers on an occasional basis. These audits can instead be provided by a third-party firm. All this information was later passed on to the current Director of Ag and his managers also. (see Attachments #2 and #3 to verify this). 

At DEC, it was estimated that the entire FSMA PSR program could be run with 1½ full time employees, and with the microbiology/food safety staff at DEC picking up some of the program duties, no additional full time staff would need to be hired to run the program.

A few months later, Fed-state grants became available for the FSMA Produce Safety Rule from the FDA. During the application period, FDA clearly stated that only state agencies with food safety authority could apply for the grants. Division of Ag knew DEC was applying and planned to keep the program in-house, but they filed an intent to apply for this FDA grant in spite of the fact that they did not have food safety authority. They also had absolutely no personnel on staff with any food safety experience at that time, but that didn’t matter to them. They insisted on applying for the FSMA grant, and forced FDA to warn that dual applications from any state would result in both applications being thrown out (Section III Eligible Applicants, PAR-16-137).  This jeopardized both agencies’ grant funding. DEC applied and received funding for the FSMA PSR grant, and the grant and the program are both under DEC’s jurisdiction now, which can be verified here:

The Division of Ag managers and Director were furious that they were not given the program. Arthur Keyes even slandered me to my boss and several commissioners and state officials on a conference call when he thought I wasn’t listening, in an attempt to discredit me and claim that the program should be at the Div of Ag. This was only a few weeks after he had his manager call me and beg me to return to my old job at Div of Ag, so clearly his slanderous statements about me didn’t hold much water. THIS kind of treatment is why people at Ag are “disgruntled”. When they weren’t allowed to apply for the grant, Div of Ag quickly hired two new staff and lobbied the governor for a takeover of the program.  DEC was told to give them some program work and a cut of the grant money. We then did not have enough money remaining to pay for the on-staff PhD microbiologist who was to be the (half time) Program Coordinator. The two people who were hired by Div of Ag under their newly-named “Marketing and Food Safety Program” were both unfamiliar w/ FSMA and uncertified to conduct any activities for it. One of the new Ag employees was given the title of “Program Coordinator” even though the program was actually at DEC. None of the job duties that were listed in the job announcement could actually be done by a person at the Division of Ag, because they were not in charge of the program. In spite of that, someone accepted the job and moved his young family to Alaska for it, under the impression that everything was on the up and up. One can only imagine how he will feel when he figures all this out. The job announcement is here:

Because there was a hiring freeze in effect when this “Program Coordinator” was recruited, the Division of Ag had to justify this hire. They claimed that there was a plan in place to move the FSMA program and grant to the Div of Ag next year, though that is untrue. There was not at that time, and still is not any plan for moving the program. The hiring justification also falsely stated that if Division of Ag was not given approval to hire this position, there would be no one in the state who would be able to provide growers with FSMA food safety information. Of course, this is also not true, because the only current FSMA produce safety specialist (me) is at DEC, and along with the other staff who are food safety specialists, we will be conducting the training, Outreach and information to growers under without any assistance needed from AG. The "FSMA program coordinator" position hired by division of agriculture will not be working under the FSMA program at all, unless DEC chooses to subcontract some of the work to them.

The second person Div of Ag hired was an Inspector to replace my old position, even though all the program work has either dried up or was recommended to be done away with by the former management, as a cost-savings measure for the state.

As far as activities reported by Director to the legislature for 2016, the blog is correct. There were NO food safety staff at Div Ag, and there had been NO GAP audits done since way before I left in 2015. Only two commodity inspections have been done, both of them over 6 months ago. NO food safety workshops have been done since I stopped doing them in 2014. The Div Ag manager has apparently said she is planning to start doing them again, and is training one of the new staff to do them. However, I think this is completely unnecessary and would waste more state money, as I’ll be required under FSMA to do these workshops through DEC, and any grower can attend one there. As far as FSMA work, Div of Ag hasn’t been doing any, and certainly none in 2016, though it is mentioned in the legislative testimony too.

What IS clear is that now Rep Tarr has proposed House Bill 218, attempting to reassign the duties of the Office of the State Vet (where the FSMA program also resides) to Div of Ag. It looks like Div of Ag management has been working with folks in Juneau to enact this takeover of duties for many months now. None of us at OSV were asked for our input, and no, we were not invited to talk about it during testimony. The HB 217 Raw Milk Bill was put forth without anyone even calling me to let me know or ask questions too, and I am the only Dairy Regulator in the whole state. If a legislator had been REALLY interested in creating a bill that was sensible, do-able, and took into consideration all the things that you’d need to know about dairy regulation, she would have at least called and inquired about specifics, I’d think. Crafting a new bill without any input from the affected agency does not seem to be the most thoughtful or effective way to create new legislation.

As far as the AG Director misinforming farmers about FSMA: Arthur Keyes attended my food safety workshop twice before he was Director of Ag. He also came to a presentation that I gave to the Board of Ag and Conservation. Both those included FSMA info. I met with him one-on-one on TWO occasions to explain in detail how FSMA worked and how it would affect Alaska (very few, if ANY farms will be affected here, more info on that is here):  In spite of all that information, he still submitted a long editorial to the A.D.N. stating that it would put farms out of business and was bad for Alaska, and he continues to oppose it publicly, although FSMA requirements are actually much less onerous than the GAP audit that he is familiar with.

 The legislative audit report speaks for itself. The takeover of the DEC’s Office of the State Vet would require a Statute change, which is always years in the making, and would cost the state another huge amount of money, so probably won’t happen. It’s not the State Vet’s Office that’s not working correctly here, and it is absolutely true that there is nothing in the State Vet’s duties that would allow for promotion of Agriculture. That office is about disease prevention and public health protection, it needs the support of the Environmental Health Lab where it’s housed, and it’s in a whole different realm than the Division of Ag inhabits.

It’s unfortunate, but as always seems to happen, the actions of a few people can cast a shadow on all the other honest, hardworking state employees that I have worked with for many years. My boss works his tail off, more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week, all the time. I worked a 15-hour day Monday, like I do every time I travel for work, in order to save the state some travel money. I brought up concerns that I have with the Division of Ag privately in letters to state administration because I wanted them to have the opportunity to do the right thing. When it became obvious that nothing was going to be done by anybody, I talked about it with anybody who would listen. I guess if producers or others want things to change, they’ll have to make calls themselves and raise their voices. Nobody’s looking for a medal, but it would be nice to not be slandered and dragged through the mud for trying to do the right thing.

Edited: Attempting to add the attachments, which are not hosted on a website.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Alaska Ag.....Earth Day

Disclaimer: This blog entry is a guest post.  The content is the author's alone, and exposes plainly, some of the machinations and workings taking place behind the scenes.

CBC Ag – The Next Generation

Political analyst David Brooks said recently “The normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence… flails and flounders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence”. 

Lately, the Alaska Division of Agriculture Director has been fond of telling people that he’s going to “Make Agriculture Great Again!” He’s also proudly telling anyone who will listen that he has an “in” with the Governor, and “can get things done for Ag”.  But if we take a closer look at what is really “getting done” at DoAg, what becomes apparent is that it’s mostly filling the swamp through cronyism, mismanagement, misinformation campaigns, and subversion of the public process.  

In the past several months the Director has flown to Juneau countless times to lobby, testify, and attempt to garner support for the flailing, failing Division of Ag. In February, his overview of the agency’s last year of activities made it sound as if great things are being accomplished at the Division. Problem is, many of the programs, activities, and responsibilities that he reported are either NOT being done by the DoAg, or were tallies of activities conducted in years past, conveniently dusted off and recycled in an attempt to convince the legislative finance committees to give them more funding and continued support. 

In that overview, the Director testified that he changed the name of the Ag Marketing section to “Market Access and Food Safety” for “Very good reasons”. So what exactly ARE those reasons? In spite of his shiny testimony taking credit for all sorts of food safety activities, there have actually been no food safety activities – no inspections, no audits and no workshops done for at least a couple of years, since the food safety staff person left and took the farm food safety program to DEC. In fact, the Division had NO food safety staff or program at all at the time of his testimony, so why the change of name?  Well, not so much a reflection of actual work, but he does have aspirations.

The Director took credit in his testimony for FSMA activities, although the FDA FSMA program is not housed at the Division of Ag, and they had no authority, directive, or budget to be working on it during the reporting period. When Reps. Birch and Parrish asked the Director about the Division’s food safety authorities, Director Keyes testified that the only products that DON’T fall under their purview are raw milk, fish, and marijuana.  In reality, the DoAg has food safety authority for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and the Director knows it. But who really cares if the truth is stretched a little - or a lot - legislators don’t know the difference, and can only make decisions based on the information reported to them (lucky for Ag, huh? ..wink wink). 

Other activities they reported for 2016 were inspections and entire programs that were slated to be discontinued by the previous Ag management. This is because there was either no call for them, they were redundant, and/or were a huge waste of state money. The Division nevertheless recently hired not one, but two new staff to replace the food safety/inspection person that left, despite the fact that less than a halftime position’s duties remained, and even those duties were in programs that had been slated to be discontinued. The DoAg will be spending lots more state money to get these new staff trained, certified, and up to speed over the next few years so they can continue with these unnecessary programs.  But hey, it serves Ag! Okay, maybe not the Ag industry (or the state budget), but the folks at The Ag Division. The hiring manager even provided false information to the Governor’s office to justify these unnecessary hires, but no one in Administration seems to care. 

Fact is, the Ag Director would really LIKE to have authority for farm food safety. He’d like to take over the entire DEC Office of the State Veterinarian too, in spite of the fact that it is an even more ludicrous notion. He’d like it so very much, in fact, that he’s been spending a huge amount of staff time, travel, and of course, state money in trying to sway the governor, the legislature, and the Farm Bureau into giving it to him. Never mind that the tiny Division of Ag has no expertise and no capacity to take them on. So why, exactly, is the tiny Division of Agriculture wanting to expand its scope and take on all the varied and complex responsibilities of the OSV? In a word, they are trying to make The Division relevant. To buy some legitimacy by co-opting it from another agency. 
While the state legislature is presented with the image of a Division of Ag that is Doing Great Things! for Ag, the reality is that the Division is mismanaged to the nines and lacks the vision needed to grow or assist industry. If you ask many producers, including some that have had leadership roles in Agriculture groups, they’ll tell you, like several told me, that they’d like to see the current Division of Ag dissolved and the director run out on a rail. Clearly, the Emperor has No Clothes. That’s a pretty damning recommendation from industry members and leaders who are supposed to be able to count on the agency for support. 

In fact, draining the swamp through dissolution of The Division of Ag was precisely the recommendation of the last legislative audit of The Division, done in 2003:  

The report is scathing in its assessment, and concludes: “Since our last audit, The Division has made very little progress in advancing agriculture. In fact, we found that the lack of innovative leadership is actually hindering the expansion of Alaska agriculture. We also found problems with the management of human resources and physical resources at the division.” The audit team actually concluded that The Division’s resources should be “statutorily restructured” - that is, parsed out to various other agencies, so that Agriculture might actually be served. 

In spite of the damning findings, none of the audit issues have been addressed in the 15 years since it was completed. In fact, things at The Division appear to have gotten even worse.  A dust storm of pretty serious corruption allegations swirl about the agency and can’t seem to stay under the rug – corruption allegations that involve the meat plant, the BAC, the ARLF’s lending practices, the inspection program’s activities, hiring practices, and reports of Division of Ag staff and cohorts working to put certain producers out of business. Is this really an agency that should be given MORE responsibility, and more authority? Apparently the Director, his managers, and the “Director-in-Waiting” seem to think so, and they’ve been working it hard with the Governor and certain legislators that appear to be in their back pocket. From soirees in Juneau to “Happy Hour in the Greenhouse”, they’re long on sales jobs and shiny photo ops with the Governor, but short on substance and transparency.  It doesn’t hurt that the Happy Greenhouse is owned by the Director’s family (and supporter of the Gov’s campaign) and that the Director’s advisor-in-chief is employed as the PR rep for him on the side.  It’s all very…cozy.

While trying to garner support for moving farm food safety to the Division of Ag, the Director recently told growers that if the FSMA food safety program was under Division of Ag rather than the Department of Environmental Conservation, it would result in “less regulation”. This is absolutely ridiculous. FSMA is a federal law that mandates food safety requirements at the state level. There is no “flexibility” in application of federal laws, no matter who is enforcing them, unless the agency enforcing them is breaking the law. The Director of Ag has been fighting the implementation of FSMA for years through fear-mongering and misinformation to local growers. His misstatements are either disingenuous, or reveal a lack of basic understanding of how FSMA, and government as a whole, work.

The Division of Ag’s proposed takeover of the State Vet’s duties is even more nonsensical. Yes, in some larger states where there is a DEPARTMENT of Ag, the state vet and food safety functions are housed there. Those Departments of Ag have multiple and varied divisions, huge staff rolls, and a lot of scientific expertise. Those Departments of Ag that have authority for FSMA also happen to have authority for all food safety in their state, something the AK Div of Ag does not have. These other states’ Ag staff are responsible for issuing food safety permits and licenses and for conducting inspections at restaurants and food processing facilities– only DEC has the the authority and expertise for that in the state of Alaska. 

The DoAg Director also seems to be confused about the responsibilities of the State Vet. In subsequent testimony to the legislature, he states that if the State Vet were under Ag, the biggest focus of the position would be “education and outreach”, and to “grow industry”. Clearly, he does not understand that the State Veterinarian’s job is the prevention of the introduction and spread of animal diseases in the state. Some of those are zoonotic diseases, such as bird flu, that can be spread to the human population.  In fact, both the State Vet and the FSMA Food Safety Programs are about protecting environmental and public health, they are NOT about farming. “Growing industry” by increasing livestock production is a MARKETING function, one that the Division continues to fail at in the opinion of many livestock producers. 

Placing the State Veterinarian in the tiny Division of Ag would clearly interfere with the duties he is actually charged with. The State Vet, like the FSMA Food Safety Inspector, is first and foremost a REGULATOR of industry. Putting regulatory staff in the position of promoting the same industries they are supposed to be regulating (and blatantly stating that “less oversight” is expected, as in the case of FSMA”) is not only antithetical to the state and federal laws these positions are charged with upholding, it is a threat to public health. And do livestock producers REALLY want the Vet charged with livestock disease quarantine to be placed under the direction of a Director who not only does not understand his duties, but wants to refocus them? And imagine what might happen with Proposition 90 (Taking sheep/goats off the “clean list”) if suddenly the State Statutes are opened to allow authorities for animal health to be moved to a different agency. Fish and Game could make an end run around the process and wrest control of this authority, effectively ensuring its passage, and the decimation of the sheep/goat industry. 

The Director lamented to the legislature that when it comes to Prop 90, the Division of Ag is the “odd man out because they don’t currently have authority for animals”, and it puts the Division in an awkward position. But when asked by Rep. Rauscher for more information on the topic, Director Keyes admitted that he actually doesn’t know much about it. He said that as he understands it, the sheep may carry “some disease” that is transmissible. “Some disease or virus, he’s not sure which. When asked if there have been any cases of this disease in Alaska, or whether past outbreaks of food borne illness associated with raw milk have been eradicated, he answered “I don’t know.”  What benefit would it provide, exactly, to move the highly skilled State Vet and food safety positions and staff from the DEC Environmental Health Lab and to the Division of Ag? Division of Ag not only cannot provide the necessary technical expertise and infrastructure to assist these functions, but there is also a clear lack of a basic understanding of the programs’ functions. What would be gained through the Director’s stated plans to reevaluate those duties and authorities for the goal of “promoting” agriculture?  It would not only put the livestock industry at risk, but would risk public health as well. 

The tactics used by the Division of Ag staff and its supporters to arrive at this end are no less questionable. Management at The Division have been meeting for months behind closed doors with legislators, the Governor, and the Farm Bureau without any input whatsoever from staff at the State Vet’s office. Throwing a bone to the DoAg Director, the edict from the Governor’s office was that the agencies “will make this happen” – never mind legislative procedures and public process, I guess. 
Geran Tarr, sponsor of the OSV move and raw milk bills took testimony from interested parties last Monday. Funny thing though, while the Division of Ag Director (and staff, too!) were invited to testify, no one from DEC or OSV was asked for their input. When they requested to testify, they were reluctantly allowed, but were told by the state administration WHAT THEIR TESTIMONY WOULD BE (basically, they were to have “no opinion”). This, in spite of the fact that this bill greatly affects public and environmental health, which is under their authority. 

When an agency is failing this badly, the last thing that should be done is to put it in charge of other, legitimate programs. Division of Ag may need some credibility right now, but it’s not going to find it by ignoring the problems at hand and taking on even more responsibility that it’s not prepared to handle. Perhaps this administration should take the advice of the legislative audit team and put the various Ag programs under other Departments where they can be adequately overseen. They suggested moving inspection to DEC, the marketing and loan programs to Commerce, and Ag Land Sales to DNR. That seems like a much more sane, and cost-effective plan, one which maybe should have been implemented 15 years ago, when the audit was completed. 

Earth Day was this past weekend, when millions of citizens came out to support science in a time when scientific research, regulatory agencies, and their funding are all being threatened by politics. The crux of the marchers’ message was that public policy must be guided by science, rather than science and research being controlled by political agendas that would restrict information and limit the dissemination of findings that might interfere with commerce. Division of Ag staff, and the legislators who introduced these proposed bills, seem to be working in lockstep with the current administration in Washington by limiting open discussion and public process as a means to an end. Veterinary Science? Pffft! Environmental and Public Health? Ha!… How hard could it be? The important thing to the CBC Ag is that the Division of Ag abides, whatever the cost.  And the costs are very high indeed.

When you are working to subvert the public process through backdoor deals, misinformation, and gag orders on program staff, you’re not a public servant, you are part of a cabal. The attempt by DoAg and its cohorts to wrest away authorities, programs, and staff from another agency in an effort to buy legitimacy is nothing less than shameful.  When it comes to the public’s health - whether it be zoonotic diseases, food safety, or raw milk legislation - expertise, capability, and infrastructure support matter. These programs, and the professional staff that run them, are not chits to be traded in the Director of Ag’s game of “Ag Monopoly”. Real issues need to be considered. All parties need to be at the table. All information needs to be made available. Because REAL lives and livelihoods are at risk.  It is ironic that some of the same people who are first to complain of “federal overreach” are more than happy to engage in public process overreach. 

At recent public meetings, many Ag producers are getting wind of these issues, and have questioned the Director’s management plans. He responded by telling them if they don’t agree with him and his agenda, then they obviously “don’t care about agriculture”. In fact, the producers in this state care very deeply about agriculture; it is their life and their livelihood. And they persevere in spite of a state agriculture division that too often appears to be working for itself, and against them, while utilizing underhanded (and apparently non-FOIA’able) tactics.  

Mr. Director, Alaskan agriculture producers care about agriculture a great deal. What they DON’T care for is a state-funded agency’s swaggering, self-serving agenda, which appears to focus mainly on keeping staff, programs, and policies in place to serve itself, rather than the Ag producers that it is tasked with assisting. Those producers who would dare to disagree with the status quo are not “enemies of Ag” – quite to the contrary, they are the public who you were hired to serve. It’s way beyond time to bring this agency’s dealings into the light of day.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Alaska Ag....the assault continues

Of the dozens of obstacles working against Alaskan farmers, and anyone in state attempting to grow food (what the DOA euphemistically calls "the agriculture industry"), none are so egregious as those that arise from within its own ranks. 

The Director of DOA, and several cohorts, have successfully championed an idea to Rep. Garan Tarr, which resulted in a bill:  HB 218  State Vet.

While the support from our representatives is generally a good thing, in this case....not so much.

You can find the bill here: HB 218

Please click the link contained above, and read the sponsors statement as well. 

The bill is confusing, as the text itself can easily lead one to presume that this bill, creates an opening for another state veterinarian. However, when reading the accompanying sponsor statement, a completely different conclusion is reached.

This bill attempts to move the Office of the State Veterinarian, to the Division of Agriculture.

What the Director and cohorts sold to the Representative was a bale of bright, green hay, that was actually moldy, complete with rot, bad strings and weeds.  

Now, the creation of the new PCNs for the FSMA program that the DOA does not have, any why-becomes crystal clear:  The DOA will need these new hires to run a few of the programs. 

In the State of Alaska, the OSV (Office of the State Veterinarian) performs a vital service to the residents, the *vast majority* of that is protecting the public health.  This is performed through preventing the spread of disease, and so on. 

It is not agriculture = farms = farm animals = logical place for state veterinarian!

The State of Alaska does not have a Department for Agriculture, due in no small part to the continued mismanagement of the existing Division, budget constraints, and the struggling state of agriculture in general. For this, and other reasons, the OSV was originally removed from under the "auspices" of the DOA to ADEC, its current, and appropriate home.  We've briefly touched on just what the OSV actually does previously, but the specifics can wait for another day. be clear:  DOA lobbied for this bill. DOA has already hired (created new positions) for two people before the bill is heard or passed.   The DOA will now argue that they have qualified people to run the program(s) already, why not move the OSV?  Once they have OSV, they will acquire various grant monies, both state and federal, and increase staffing.  This will create more opportunities for mayhem, indeed, corruption should not be rewarded with state resources. Remember, the DOA lost their trained and certified farm food safety/FSMA personnel to the OSV, where they are now.  If the DOA is hoping to move the OSV to DOA, why did they hire new personnel? 

Grant money, more staff......unfilled yet funded (ghost) positions....

Ayep, just follow the money. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Alaska Ag.....Government Occupied Agriculture

Today, the first in a series of guest posts. Each entry is uploaded unedited by the blog author, and is a commentary on the state of Alaskan agriculture.  Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and concerns. 


The authors of this guest post have varied on the farm experience but are very familiar with the State and Federal bureaucratic and regulatory processes. Such processes can be, at best, confusing and they would like to help people take matters into their own hands and reform the way Alaskas Division of Agriculture interacts with its stakeholders, creates and maintains programs, allocates grants, and most importantly how this government agency represents Alaskan agricultural industry at home and oversees.    

Why write about government occupied agriculture?

If you are reading this article then I believe that you are a conscientious stakeholder in government occupied agriculture. If you are not reading this article, but you are breathing, then you are still a stakeholder in agriculture you just avoid governments occupation of it.  As the sayings go: “Did you eat today? Then you may thank a farmer.  Did your food travel more than 100 miles? Then you should thank the global food supply chain. Are you delighted by the fact that you do not understand what's in your food? Then you can thank the FDA. Do you delight in purchasing your meat from other unknown countries? Then you should applaud the USDA. Does a poor Alaskan agricultural domestic growth and export economy continue to give you hope in our government institutions? Yes! Then you should thank the government occupation of Alaskan Agriculture or Division of Agriculture (DOA). Are you filled with encouragement when you read that 96% of Alaska’s food is imported? Then tell an entrepreneur and they can try to deal with the DOA. Sarcasm aside, the State of our agriculture is not a burden for the DOA alone, it is one we all should share. As Americans we should all play a role in how our government functions, we should pay attention and have the right to a transparent process. Our lack of involvement further enables government agencies like DOA to do as it pleases for the benefits of a few rather than diligently working to secure a stronger agricultural future for all Alaskans. It is not so easy to ignore government as it is involved in nearly every transaction or process needed to be a successful business. So if we have to live with government let us use the tools we have to shape it in a way that benefits trade and supports agricultural development. Easier said than done!       

When compared with other States, agriculture in Alaska is a relatively small scale industry. In fact it is so small that the State of New Hampshire, a State competing for the leased amount of agriculturally designated land in the U.S., receives near double the federal funding with several thousand more farms. Yes, I know they have had a long established agricultural economy, Alaska has near the same amount of agriculturally designated lands, New Hampshire has better infrastructure and is closer to the wealthy and high density populations of the contiguous US. So, maybe we should give up as our future agricultural economy is a little bleak and should be likened to that of an isolated ice sheet where it is near impossible to grow and trade Alaska grown agricultural products. However, the position of isolated ice sheet is held by non other than the country of Iceland. An oddly entrepreneurial country with cheese exports generating more in revenue for Iceland than the State legislature appropriates for the Division of Agricultures main office operating budget.  In 2015 Icelands agricultural meat export economy grossed more than Alaskan agricultural exports combined. Clearly this would not be the case if the Alaskan fishing industry fell under the penumbra of Alaskan State Agriculture, which is the case for most other States.  Instead this prized industrial nugget is governed by Alaska State fish and game and a hand full of other State agencies which is maybe for the best. It is possible that once Alaska state fish stocks hit rock bottom the powers that be will re- delegate statutory authority to the State DOA like other other failed programs. For example, the dairy industry, planned and implemented by the Alaska Agricultural Action Council (AAAC) reporting directly to the Governors office while the going was good, as the dairy industry began to crumble the AAAC dissolved and the program became DOA’s responsibility - RIP.

But I digress from my point that if a remote and glaciated land mass can pull of an agricultural export industry why can’t we? The usual suspects highlighted by the numerous and often expensive feasibility reports and reviews are a lack of federal and private funding, a burdensome regulatory process, isolation, transportation, infrastructure blah, blah, blah… Or is it that our Division of Agriculture bleeds incompetence to such a degree to scare off any potential investors in Alaska State agricultural future?  History would certainly suggest the latter, especially when you consider Potatoes to China, MMMS, Point Mackenzie agricultural land sales and dairy farming, or agricultural land sales in general, and lets not forget the number of DOA employees fired or resigned all of which are labeled as disgruntled past employees! For now I will try not dwell on the past, as there is far too much ammunition and this State agency appears bullet proof!  Instead, let us look to what our investment in government occupied agriculture has secured for the future of this industry by embarking on a fact finding journey to discover why the DOA gets such a bad rap and how we can help them do a better job.  

So here is what I will propose going forward. I will take a program currently administered by the DOA and post an article on its value to Alaska State agriculture.  Each article will be based on known facts with links and proof attached.  I will clearly indicate my personal opinions on these articles. I will try to provide you with a process and maybe even contacts to enable you to also encourage change in how your DOA does business. I strongly encourage feed back from readers and those who may be affected by the program as I do not have all the answers and I may sometimes be wrong in my opinions. But I, like you, have my own opinion based on the information available. If DOA wants a more informed audience with a uniformed understanding of how it conducts business then it behooves DOA to provide clear guidance through transparent processes.

Together we can make the DOA work for Alaska.