Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alaska Ag....Digging for truth

This blog was recently linked to a local FB group, where discussion ensued over the content.

The quasi legal disclaimer, once again: 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.

The string of comments that erupt, expose the schism that exists in Alaska ag, like no other. Some take the questions raised here quite personally, and others just presume the author has some sort of axe to grind...or hates ag...or something else equally nefarious in nature. Naturally, they are unwilling to accept the truth: 

This blog author cares deeply and personally about the future of Alaska agriculture. 

*All* of Alaska agriculture.

Not just the "industry". Not just the row crop folks, the farmer's market growers, the greenhouse producers. Not just the peonies, the pot, the hydro people.....everyone who grows anything at all, to consume or sell. Growing food, forages, or flowers here is a challenge-and everyone who is actively participating recognizes this unavoidable truth. 

Because if it were easy, the state would not be importing 95 to 96% percent of its food from the L48. 

That is a truth that could be changed if the will to change it existed. 

If the State itself (in the guise of the Division of Agriculture) actually worked to change it

If the State itself (Every land management department) actually let people have farm land

If the State itself remedied the farm liability insurance obstacle

If the State itself even had a clear, attainable goal of self sufficiency and sustainability. 

If the State itself even considered agriculture a growing natural resource. 

If the power players of Alaska Ag accepted the young, the newcomer, the outside the box thinker, the innovator, the inventive, the determined and the dedicated into their ranks. 

If this were done, much could be changed and for the better. For all Alaska residents, everywhere. 

And that, readers, is the motivation.

Sadly. it's the getting there that is a nasty, long trek through an incredible amount of corruption, collusion, and complicit actions through an exceedingly complex trail of connections. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The Juneau Games

With the legislature gaveling into session, agriculture interests have hopped on planes for Juneau to plead with representatives, senators, and various committees.  

You'd have be on the outside looking in, to get the full picture of what is occurring right now. 

Follow along carefully, please.

There are private individuals who have arranged their own meetings and attendance at various hearings, private gatherings and so on.

There are representatives of various ag related groups down there also, and they are doing the same. Attending meetings, presenting information, and schmoozing whoever they can.

And there is, of course, the Division of Ag representatives who flew south to represent their views, plead for funding, and are attempting to polish the turd.

Putting aside the amazing coincidence of verbatim talking points between the Division of Ag and the Alaska Farm Bureau, there is this:

The Division of Agriculture is asking the Legislature to move the State Veterinarian (office, personnel, duties) to the Division. 

The Division does not have the statutory authority for that program, and appear to have misled both the governor's office and a legislative committee about it.  

Now, for the uniformed, the request seems reasonable and I have no doubt Director Keyes put a bright, shiny object up for the committees to consider.  After all, aren't veterinarians and agriculture basically connected?  Farms=animals, which equals agriculture, correct?

That supposition is so far from the truth here, it is literally laughable.

The takeover of the state veterinarian office, to the Div of Ag, is about money, power, and trying to gain credibility (something their own program sadly lacks), by taking it from another agency that has some. And of course, they'll take their federal and state grant monies and additional staff too, please. 

The State Vet's office isn't about traditional animal husbandry issues related to ag production.  But of course, the Division of Agriculture Director does not realize, or recognize, the entire scope of responsibility. Their (Div of Ag) actual focus is more likely to be snaring the Vet's office's programs - FSMA, Veterinary and animal health, and the fish contaminants monitoring program.....which represent grant money, security, and staff.

In fact, the Div of Ag has advertised, and is hiring, someone to take on management of "FSMA". FSMA is actually a broad federal law that allows for the development of numerous federal regulations, including manufactured food safety, produce safety, import inspections, transportation of human and animal food, and several others, the functions of most of which are apparently under the statutory authority of DEC at the state level.

The fact that the Div of Ag continually refers to the Produce Safety Rule as "FSMA" is like calling the State of Alaska Wastewater regulations "EPA" (The Environmental Protection Act). That in itself points to the fact that the Div of Ag Director appears quite unfamiliar with the FSMA law. The one and only person in the state (and former Ag staff member) who supposedly was familiar with and involved with the FSMA and Produce Safety Rule for the past several years has reportedly resigned (and is now apparently at the State Vet's office of DEC, the department that has the authority to manage and enforce FSMA Produce Safety Rule, along with all the food safety oversight in the State of Alaska). And, no joke-the Director of Ag was, until he sniffed FSMA grant money, probably THE most outspoken critic of FSMA, and called publicly for an exemption from the new federal law for the whole state. You have to wonder how good a job he would do of advocating for and enforcing the law he so disdains, and whether the FDA would even agree to fund the state grant if it was moved to his agency.

The Division of Agriculture does not have the statutory authority to oversee or manage food safety, period. Food safety in the state of Alaska is the responsibility of DEC, for good reason. 

It sounds like staff at the Div of Ag may have even went so far as to present misinformation to the Governor and the legislature. A recent justification (written for the Governor's office) for a new position at the Div of Ag, for a "FSMA Program Coodinator", who, it appears is being hired to manage the program, states that there is a "plan" to move the FSMA program and grant money, from DEC to the Div of Ag. This is *not* true. At legislative budget committee hearings, the Director of Ag claimed multiple food safety classes were held by the Div of Ag staff in 2016. The person who taught those classes has apparently not worked for the Div of Ag for a couple of years, and there is no record of any food safety classes announcements for 2016, or of any ag producers who have said they attended one. Never the less, the Div of Ag director claimed to the legislative budget committee that 150 farmers had attended 15 of these classes in 2016. Also questionable is the number of inspections the Ag Director testified to the House Budget Committee that they performed in 2016. It sounds really unlikely that those inspection numbers are correct, unless the Div of Ag defines "inspection" REALLY broadly. It would be interesting to see who was inspected, when these inspections were done, and by who. Their website says these is only one inspector on staff.

If these are actually misrepresentations that were made to the Governor's office and the legislature, aimed at creating support for the Div of Ag's goal of taking over the State Vet program (as well as other state programs) it is malfeasance.  Testifying to an untruth simply exposes the corruption within Alaska Ag, and the Division in particular.

It's amusing, in that ironic sort of way, that Director Keyes has plead the case for food safety. He certainly had a very different outlook not that long ago:

The Division of Ag is playing a very dangerous game in Juneau. Not only are they apparently willing to lie to your representatives, they have gone so far as to hire staff, to implement a program based on a plan that does not exist!

All the paranoid posturing in the world, will not correct the poor management, poor oversight, poor accounting, and poor performance that is demonstrated by the Division of Agriculture. Transparency and accountability?  Ha!

And we pay for this. Soon enough, out of every paycheck.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The boomerang

Some issues are just never dead and buried for good, not really.  Like the amazingly accurate weapon of the Australian outback-the boomerang-sometimes, events just conspire to return troubles, over and over again.

Such is the case with MMM&S.

Oh, you thought the place sold?  And all was good over there for all the producers? The deal closed and the new owners in charge?

Well....not so much.  There is an environmental hazards review of sorts, to take place after break up this spring. Who knows what they will uncover with this $5000 contract, but any aged commercial property generally has contamination issues from previous decades. Typically they are relatively minor, and easily remedied, but it is not immediately clear who will end up paying for any necessary work. Best bet: The state.  (Side note: the contract was not signed by an officer of the BAC, but rather by the person who manages the loans for ARLF)

Rumors have arisen ((again) concerning "unusual irregularities" in the plant's accounting *cough cough* which could force another delay, or even a third party audit. No speculation about what the results might be, but given the topic and individuals involved-this would be a very good idea.

So no, the closing has not taken place yet.

In fact, there is this to consider:

The Division of Agriculture is recruiting (hiring!) a Production Manager at the slaughter plant in Palmer. The position is for maintaining the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) process according to federal regulations for MMM&S.

Upshot: The State sold this asset for half its appraised value, is likely on the hook for environmental hazards, and to top it off, they are hiring an employee at $50,000 a year to oversee federally mandated requirements!


Dang that boomerang!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Alaska Ag: The Godfathers

There is no story relating to the deep and troubling issues surrounding Alaska's agriculture, without hearing or reading the same names. Over and over, they pop up in conversation, are cited in history, quoted in the present, and known by all whose livelihood relies upon the pitiful remains of Alaska Ag. To the newcomers, the novices, the folks just starting out, they are presented and held up as icons of industry, or respectful successes. Since the majority of residents will be clueless as what it all means, and who really holds the reins on the throttle of food production in this state, it is simple matter to just....ask around.

It is only later that you will hear about their corruption, their power and their ability to exercise that power firmly. The CBC had nothing on these guys. Back room hand shake deals, taking down the upstarts and's all business as usual for the Godfathers.

Pundits say that the mega projects of the past died in committee, and that's mostly true...but the survivors of state benevolence are jealous of their position, indeed. Others watched askance as the cheechakos tried, and failed, leaving the state with many thousands of cleared acres and a bewildering array of programs, agencies, and all around failure in their wake. Today's newcomers to agriculture are facing the same struggles as previous generations. A state which does not actively promote farming-from banking, to insurance, to taxes, to the land itself.

And then there is the unseen hurdle of the godfathers of Alaska Ag. They will outright lie, misrepresent, and conspire to run off anyone who has the nerve to encroach upon their chosen path to what passes for success in the farming industry here. (Yes, this actually happens, ask around about this too)  Some of the names predate the great state agricultural boondoggles of the past (Delta Barley, Pt McKenzie, Mat Maid Dairy) and some were enticed here by promises of frontier farming and inexpensive money to get going. Others have bulldozed onto the scene, earning peer respect by quashing competition, joining advocacy groups, and schmoozing the anointed.  The anointed, of course, being the Godfathers of Alaska Ag.

Just like the mafia of the movies, these Godfathers all have their crews, their minions, and their business interests infect all sectors of agriculture.

Woe to those who dare to farm here, a truth so bitterly accurate that many a would-be farmer has learned and left......and whose fault is that?

Ask around, and you'll find out.