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*