Thursday, June 6, 2019

Alaska Ag....Hoorah for Hemp!

The Department of Natural Resources, and the Division of Agriculture announced that they have released the proposed regulations they have created for hemp.  Nice letter, right?

Valley Senator Shelley Hughes has been a strong, vocal supporter of hemp, seeing it as a boost to flagging Alaska agriculture. She has not read the proposed regulations, she confessed on a FB post. I certainly hope she does, and thinks through the 48 pages of regulations and what they really mean in practice.

Plant Materials Center head plant guru, Rob Carter, is busy growing all sorts of varieties of hemp. He'll be the one who decides what can be grown here for all Alaska. So it would seem that the subject is well in hand, guided by the knowledgeable folks in state government. 

The proposed regulations can be found here:  Proposed Industrial Hemp Regulations

Points to ponder:

     *The fee schedule-copied here for all to read...........

     11 AAC 40.100. Fee schedule. The following fees are established for registration and participation in the Alaska Industrial Hemp Program; 
(1) non-refundable application fee for a registration: $100.00; 
(2) non-refundable application fee for a renewal registration: $50.00; 
(3) annual registration fee for a grower: $200.00; 
(4) annual registration fee for a processor that creates a product not intended for human or animal consumption: $250.00; 
(5) annual registration fee for a processor that creates a product intended for human or animal consumption: $750.00; 
(6) annual registration fee for a retailer: $300.00; 
(7) endorsement fee for each industrial hemp product subject to Article 4 of this chapter: $100.00; 
(8) transportation permit issued under 11 AAC 40.710: $50.00; 
(9) modification of product endorsement: $100.00; 
(10) modification of registration: $50.00; 
(11) collection fee under 11 AAC 40.260 for the division or the division’s representative to collect samples from harvest of industrial hemp: $200.00; and 
(12) testing of seeds of wild, landrace, or unknown origin under 11 AAC 40.220: $1,200.00. 

     *The regulations give the Division of Agriculture police powers. That is, the power to enter private property, seize and/or destroy private property in violation of the regulations.

     *Minimum number of plants: 200.  

     *Cannot grow, store, or process them within a residence. 

     *Minimum acreage: One quarter.  Whether this means lot size, or garden patch, is not clear.

     *Minimum separation distance: 1,000 meters, or about 3300 feet. You must also provide GPS co-ordinates on your application.  Not to the property-but where exactly on the property the plant is.

     *Other states have already certified varieties of hemp, for the three main uses: for CBD products, for fiber, and for animal feed. Some of those are northern latitude states, where growing conditions are similar.  Instead, Alaska will have whatever performs best in the micro climate surrounding the PMC in Palmer. And instead of allowing certified seed sales to Alaska, and letting the growers themselves figure it out, the Division is doing all that work for your benefit. (*cough cough* Because Kenai, Talkeetna, Fairbanks, Big Lake, and Glenallen have identical growing seasons, riiiiiight?)

     *The fees alone, preclude the participation of small farms and hobbyists-a large number of those folks would give hemp a try-even if only for the novelty.  

     *The distance between growing locations condition could be a huge obstacle for semi-rural and suburban growers.  (This is on a par for liquor licensing and schools, for example) 

So, your chances of being able to go to your local greenhouse or nursery, and try your hand at growing some seeds for your livestock, or fiber for your new loom, are positively zero. Who is going to pay the state $1,350 so they can sell a few flats of hemp?  Oh and by the way, everyone has to register and pay the fees listed above, which would include each and every customer.

Here again, the State of Alaska is picking winners and losers. The winners?


Keyword: Industrial. As in, only large, corporate farms will be able to participate. 

The Losers?

Every other Alaskan interested. 


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Alaska Ag....The Dairy Program

I feel compelled to comment about the furor surrounding Gov. Dunleavy's proposed budget, which eliminates the dairy sanitation program in its entirety.

1.  The cited $180,000 is not the cost of salary for one person on state payroll. 

2.  There are different elements to the program, and they include:

          a. Monthly sampling of the milk (this is in addition to the routine daily sampling and testing that the dairy performs itself)

          b. Quarterly inspections of the farm itself (equipment, animal health, sanitation,etc)

         c. Quarterly inspection and testing of the milk plant on the farm (this is specialty equipment necessary for Grade  A status which includes the chiller and pasteurizer, etc)

         d. Maintaining federally required certifications and training

          e. Quarterly inspections of the blow molding plant in Palmer (where the milk jugs are  made)

          f. Performing specific laboratory tests on the milk samples

3.  The State of Alaska adopted the PMO (pasteurized milk ordinance) and other standards, and adhering to the administrative code is not only required federally for Grade A dairies, but is required by the state itself. In other words, if there exists one (or a 100) Grade A dairy, then the state is bound to perform the required inspections and testing. 

4.  The person who performs the dairy sanitation inspections, also provides the inspections for the FSMA, which includes locally produced crops.  This person also speaks at seminars, teaches the community about the programs within FSMA, and has other duties related to Alaska agriculture. 

5.  Prior to the adoption of the PMO and subsequent creation of the program, the state veterinarian performed the required tests (at the farms at Pt. MacKenzie, for example) but it is unclear who was tasked with inspection and testing of the milk plant (Matanuska Maid) during that time. (Matanuska Maid has since fallen into history, and no large facility exists within the state. The Havemeisters' invested in a dairy plant, on their farm, to process the milk into Grade A)

6.  There exists no mechanism (currently) to hire any external professionals to perform the needed tests and inspections.

Please note: The frequency of the actions taken by the state is as accurate as I can determine. They may be more, or less, frequent than cited above. Specific lab test information is unknown, but is sure to rule out various pathogens, bacteria, and so forth. 

Of suggested solutions, none are available to the Havemeisters on their own.  This is true for any other dairy hoping to attain the Grade A stamp, which allows for legal commercial sale.

Even the future of the bottling plant may be at risk, if they lose the Havemeister contract of 5,000 milk jugs a week. Not to mention the inspections done there, that allow other Alaska companies to bottle products locally.

However, the OSV (Office of the State Veterinarian) could, in theory, offer a way out of this dilemma:

As it stands, the only permitted lab is the state's own.  There exist others locally. In addition, there are certified labs in other states capable of testing. It is entirely likely that the inspections themselves, can be done by anyone certified/trained to do them, it is a matter of adjusting regulation and having the time to get it done. The OSV has the full authority to make changes, and there appears to be support within the legislature to do so at this time.

The future of the dairy remains in doubt, until the budget is finalized and on the Governor's desk for signature, or red pen.  That said, the dairy has come up with alternatives, and so have others on the Governor's team.

Note: I too, railed against paying a single person 180 grand a year for dairy inspections, in a previous post. Like most, I did not realize that the choice to call it a "position" was ADECs decision, and even that decision is questionable, because they do intend to reduce staff by eliminating a position. So yes, ADEC is playing semantics, and budgetary shenanigans continue to plague Ag. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Alaska Ag.....Moving forward

As readers know, this blog has been often focused on the shortcomings of Alaska Ag. From the unhelpful regulations and statutes of local and state government, to the ineffective Division of Agriculture. The Board of Agriculture Conservation has come under fire for their partisanship, giving rise to the well earned title "CBC of Ag", as they capriciously chose winners and losers . Many entries here have recounted the shenanigans and outright frauds that have been perpetrated in the name of Ag, to the detriment of all. Despite decades of management by state employees and volunteers at the BAC, no progress has been made in moving the needle forward, off that lousy "3 to 5% of food consumed, produced in state"

So, putting my money where my criticism falls:

Friday, February 15, 2019

Alaska Ag...An Uncertain Future

With the State of Alaska facing financial Armageddon, Governor Dunleavy's proposed budget suggests big change is coming.

The particulars as it is related to agriculture can be found on the OMB webpage for the state. 

The overview can be found here:

Details can be found here:

 For the first link, scroll right and see the proposed reduction percentages.  For the second link, read the notes in the possible scenarios.  At the end of this detail report, is the organization chart for the Division of Ag going forward. 

This trims the fat from the Division, and sets up the office to be a lean, mean  machine. Their focus will change drastically, as the component details show, by moving some activities elsewhere and literally deleting others.  The Division goes from 28 positions, to 14, while still preserving its core function.

Stakeholders are sure to start screaming wildly, but this is a point in time where one should ask themselves:  

What has the Division done for Alaskan residents? 
What has it actually done for ag? 
Is there a better way to deliver what little service it provides?

Remember, running a program that benefits only a few, yet costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll expense, is not fiscally responsible in a time of deficit.

This is how ridiculous it has gotten. The state has one PCN on payroll for dairy inspections. Folks, there is exactly one commercial dairy in the whole state. Although under the ADEC umbrella, there is no need to continue this program with only one dairy. As the detail for ADEC notes:

Eliminating the dairy program will not increase risk to public health, as unregulated milk will not enter the market. Those wishing to purchase local milk will still be able acquire raw milk through a cow-share program.

The incumbent holding this position will be rolled into ADEC doing other functions, but it is still an indicator of our past proliferate spending overall. 

While the future of the Division of Agriculture might be uncertain, there is no uncertainty about the future of agriculture in Alaska at all.  With the right Director at the helm, and a savvy slate of folks on the Board of Agricultural Conservation, some needed changes in state regulation/policy, the future could be very bright indeed.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Alaska Ag...The Crisis 2.0 UPDATE

The USDA slaughter plant, aka as MMM&S, has a notice:

"Closed 30 to 90 days for repair"

When, or even if, it will reopen, no one seems to know.  Since MMM&S is the sole location in Southcentral with the USDA stamp for resale cuts, this will no doubt cause problems for some producers. Livestock can still be processed using the "custom exempt" section of USDA permitting. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Alaska Ag....The Crisis 2.0

In yet another huge challenge facing Alaska livestock owners, comes the rumor floating all over:

MMM&S might close, in as little as three weeks or so.

No one really seems to know the true cause of what might be happening there-despite the bargain basement price for the plant, it may not be viable for anyone, ever. Or it could be internal squabbles, or personnel, or personal reasons, or any combination of them. The State's continued poor economy no doubt contributed, as did the State's historical ag choices-Directors, BAC members, policies, the whole shebang.

Whatever the cause, this is of grave concern to those Alaskans hanging on by a thread, producing locally grown livestock for discerning buyers. For without a functioning USDA plant with it's all important "stamp", there will be no Southcentral grown lamb chops, pork butts, or beef pot roasts for sale locally. 

This will cripple Alaska food production for quite some time, should it come to pass.

Just think about this issue, the next time you are in a chain grocery store, and select the imported products, instead of the Alaska grown. And how dependent you are, upon the continued stream of shipping containers making their way through the Port of Alaska.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alaska Ag.....Surprise!

It seems the Palmer chains on agriculture, in the form of Arthur Keyes, have been broken.

Just posted today, on the Alaska Grown Facebook page, was an entry describing the success of the $5 Challenge.  

The link to the Facebook page for Alaska Grown is:  Alaska Grown

If you follow the link to the DNR press release about the program, you will find that DNR's David Schade is "acting director" of the Division of Agriculture.

What, exactly, does this mean for Agriculture in Alaska?  

Well, Mr Schade may become the permanent replacement for Keyes, that is unknown.

But what is known, that whoever ends up assuming the title and duties, will no doubt be a step forward for agriculture here.