Alaska task force says at least $67 million needed to alleviate state’s dependence on food imports

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By MERRILEE GASSER | THE CENTER SQUARE

The Alaska Food Strategy Task Force said it would take at least $67 million to alleviate the state’s dependence on imports for food.

The dependence on outside sources makes the state vulnerable to shortages and food insecurity, according to the task force’s report.

For some recommendations, like extending the Alaska Railroad to Fort Greely, the report does not list an estimated cost but says it would need a combination of state and federal funds.

The recommendations in the report released this week cover three priority areas: sustainably growing Alaska’s agriculture industry, growing markets for local products, and improving transportation and infrastructure.

Alaska is one crisis away from a food shortage, said Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Greater Palmer, Knik-Fairview, the task force chair.

“An earthquake, a labor strike at a major port, a pandemic – and we would see our store shelves empty out in short order. Rather than an academic discussion about interesting ideas, the report includes specific, workable strategies that list responsible entities, any required statutory or regulatory changes, proposed timelines and action steps, and metrics to be used to measure progress and success.”

The task force recommended creating an Alaska Department of Agriculture, which would cost more than $20 million, according to the report. It also called for $3 million for forgivable loan programs to improve access to capital for food producers.

Another $43 million is needed to increase research capacity and programs through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension, according to the report.

Other suggested action steps for expanding agriculture included extending leases on state-owned land and encouraging tax exemptions for farmland.

The creation of an Alaska Grown Marketing Institute and re-establishing an Alaska Meat Inspection Service would cost approximately $600,000, according to the report.

The task force also recommended requesting grocery stores to track and sell more Alaska-grown food and expanding the Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund to food processors and manufacturers, among other things.

The task force recommended nine actions to improve transportation and infrastructure. They include working to strengthen maritime and aviation infrastructure, improving bypass mail operations, data collection and analysis, creating a Supply Chain Coordination Council, increasing food storage for Community Food Banks and disaster preparedness, and extending the Northern Rail.

“Alaska’s food security is complex but requires both sound management of wild food systems and robust supply chains that provide high-quality and affordable food to populations across a vast area,” said AFSTF Executive Board Member Michael Johnson. “This task force has identified many actionable and data-driven proposals across three initial focus areas that can support local production, reduce waste, and foster economic growth. We hope these intervention options foster high-level discussion and will be strongly considered as our team begins work on the remaining four focus areas.”

The task force’s next report is due on Aug. 1, 2024.

39 COMMENTS

  1. Living in SE, it’s a fact of life we’re in trouble if the barge is late.

    So we stock up, we hunt and fish, and plan for potential future with no barges for a couple weeks.

    Our Mormon brothers have a philosophy of having up to three months supplies laid in. It’s a philosophy more Alaskans should embrace.

    It’s funny how every “task force” has a price tag.

    • Only three months? I remember when the Mormons considered storing a full year’s worth of food to be SOP. I follow that recommendation myself, and I am not even a Mormon.

    • Masked Avenger, One reads where the S.E. pink harvest is three time anticipated, meaning something like a surplus of 34 million fish. There is the answer to your food insecurity. Break out the canner and learn the joys of jarring jalapeno ketchup pink salmon. Pretty sure you can purchase this bounty for about a buck per fish, (or less).

      • Perfectly said… Just please omit the Jalapeno “part”, not everyone can eat the super spiced ketchup ha..ha..

  2. Make the $67 million three billion and do it right. Alaska can easily become a net exporter of many foods, given the chance (money) and incentive (hunger) and let our farmers loose on the ”food shortage”.

    About time.

  3. We are driving our local farmers out because the corporate grocery stores, although they advertise locally grown produce, seldom stock it. Farmers have found that their real estate is more profitable to developers because there is no market for their products. Which makes us more vulnerable to our dependence on shipping, even during our short growing season. Our agriculture does not use undocumented labor like in California, so the prices are higher because they must pay a livable wage for non-slave labor, but our local products are far better at any price. Too bad the grocery chains desire a 150% markup on their products and can blame everything on shipping. I made a career in shipping and can honestly say that it represents a small portion of the price for the products. Especially in the villages, where shipping is so highly subsidized by the government. Between the two major grocery corporations and the Canadians, we are being fleeced. While they pretend to promote local products at twice the price.

    • Shipping up here is just nuts. I ship a lot of items to Alaska and it costs a fortune. And groceries are at 200% or better and always have been. Theft and spoilage require it. There was a market for the valley farm products, the developer just offered a lot more with instant gratification thrown in.

  4. Good luck getting that. I’m sure Joe’s pals in Beijing would love to have it be part of their Belt and Road program!

  5. If memory serves, with the exception of the grocery store tracking, the state tried all of those suggestions in the past and all resulted in very expensive and sometimes spectacularly expensive failures.

  6. 67 million

    43 of it in a bureaucracy 20 million for the university…

    Whoever paid for this study got ripped the F off..

    • Seymour Waste…. That’s Exactly what I was thinking. Seems like they’re more interested in just lining their government pockets, which will end up getting nothing done.

      I’m thinking we don’t need big government to hold our hands and to have their expensive pow wows for us to just grow and raise our own foods. I buy locally what I don’t grow myself. Look beyond the stores, and it’s out there to buy locally.

    • When in doubt, call BDO. Office is in Anchorage.
      Forensic accounting. Global as well. Alaskans should start a GoMeFund and hire them to audit the State of Alaska “wasteful spending” and wait for the fallout from the financial crimes…

    • Seymour you’re right on 43 million to the university who can’t get education right now. How much goes onto the pockets of government officials?

  7. No! Not another dime to UAF. 43 million dollars to put into their greedy worthless hands would result in Nothing.

    • If the UAF would get all their miscellaneous acres they buy and major in agriculture instead of all those social sciences courses that develop anti-socialist people and then send these people out in the summer to the fields to produce food using their education for the state, repaying their educational debts. It might help. I remember back in the 70’s, before the cannery culture changed, the college students from the lower 48 came up here to work to earn their college money. Right now, we’re importing foreign summer workers and treating them like slaves with the J-1 visas..(ADN produced a series back in 2018-2019?? detailing the abuse of the “trapped in a contract”, innocent not understanding they are having to find and pay for housing-on their own)..our summer foreigner workers being used as slaves working in the tourist industry. OUR college students need those jobs to pay off their school loans, but won’t work due to the “slave nature” of the work hours.)

  8. I’m very pleased to read that Alaska is looking to be more self-sufficient. I just have to wonder if all the costs are merited. Looking forward to seeing the plan in more detail.

  9. I also think that we could run a state store to sell Alaska only produce for a small initial investment from the state. I believe there are already funds available for such ventures. This could do much to decrease our dependence on outside influences. The grocery chains do nothing to encourage self sufficiency. It goes against their profit margins.

    • NO! Absolutely NOT!
      If you want to start a grocery store offering mostly Alaskan products, more power to you. However the state does not need to become a manager of grocery access. Senator Loki would demand we make it carbon neutral and farmers, who want to sell their goods there, must have electric tractors. Just imagine the bureaucracy to run it yikes. Too Big Brother and reminisced of the old creepy soviet system.
      The state should focus on building roads and infrastructure to make delivery of goods more affordable. Build the Knik bridge. Maybe give a tax break to farmers in the state, per actual goods produced. Support/expand farmers markets. Make the economic climate such that industry wants to relocate up here.
      We don’t need $67 million worth of bureaucrat and “planners” that will study issues at nauseam but not have much to show for, becoming a perpetual drain on the budget.

    • Trig….Ummmm things like that is the definition of communism. State owned and ran. That’s how China does it.
      Why does the government need to steal our monies and create anything. We the people can create on our own and be self sufficient, without the government price tag attached to it.

  10. DNR promoted a grant program to people wanting to farm their land last spring. The application called for you to submit a list of what seeds and supplies you’ll be needed, and their associated costs. Several people we know applied for the grants and started their gardens. No one heard a peep from DNR.

  11. If the elementary and secondary teachers weren’t so slow they’d be using the defunct school gardens former teachers had built for their classroom study. That’s a field trip project and year long study I do if I studied elementary education me and my kids would be doing gardening learning to grow food and harvest in fall with me tending the garden solo or interested families helping during summer. Lake Otis elementary has a defunct garden and Inlet Elementary has a defunct garden even with a green house. There even more spaces on the children’s school grounds for more raised gardens for more growing. They could even begin growing a fruit orchard and berries such as rows of raspberries. Then the next school lesson would be jarring everything. Just sayin’ there a several spots where Alaskans could have been growing food for families or classrooms. Alaskan’s if you read more books you be using your noggin.

    • Jen, I have seen those “classroom garden” and while they are a worthy project for the kids to learn skills, they do not supply enough as a base for feeding a community. I have seen how the enthusiasm of kids wanes when actual daily work is involved. Besides it isn’t the kids or the teachers jobs to provide food. We pay the teachers to teach not provide agricultural products. You clearly have no idea how much work it is to run a fruit orchard or greenhouse to actually produce, harvest and distribute food.

  12. Want an industry to grow? Minimize the taxes and regulations that artificially drive up costs. Then build a refinery so that we can produce our own fuel for trucks/ag equipment.

  13. Good ideas like expanding infrastructure and maybe tax incentives for farmers. Encourage private sector rather than just growing more government. When I hear ‘task force’ ‘Dept’ and ‘studies’ I see bigger government and expense. I thought we had a department of agriculture already. And until we have improved local food accessibility, we all need to practice some basic preparedness.

  14. One of the largest untapped natural energy sources sitting below waiting for the greenhouses to be built and we could be on our way to nearly total self reliant. Geo thermal energy sources could provide massive returns on investment and independence.
    And once again I will repeat whats already been spoken…Leave the sponges at UAA/UAF the hell out of the money soaking parties that never produce result.
    Private enterprise with grants and loans for actual production plans.
    Has anyone noticed the amount of warehouse space converted to growing weed.
    If edible produce had a fraction of the value and demand as dope The grocery stores would be overflowng with produce

    • It’s a matter of priority.

      Consider the extenuating circumstances that caused Matanuska Maid to go under in 2007, and later another issue eg indictment of Kyle Beus et al. There’s your issue of ‘communism’ at work. Government subsidies for farms and farmers. Some situations seem always ripe for the pickings by scam artists. (Mr Beus only served 2 months for his role in the after-the-fact fallout.)

      Beer, barley, spuds, moose, fish and berries. What else besides the kohlrabi, cabbages, spinach and peas in a truck garden, and tomatoes in the greenhouse is necessary for balanced nutrition?

  15. What would come from said research and coupled regulation? Verification that locally produced foods are much more expensive? Barge food has supplanted many local foods historically consumed in AK. Better to frame the question as expensive v cheap food, rather than outside v local food.

  16. Just wondering. How many Trillion it is going to cost to Lengthen the growing season?
    Has anyone on the comity ever commercially farmed?

  17. Long ago, when I brought up my first big tractors, the ferry system gave a significant price break for standby shipping. It really helped then and would more help now. My last harvester cost $10k shipping out of ND on a standard truck.

  18. I’ve wondered this myself for the longest, not being a long time Alaskan. If Alaska grows such big vegetables why hasn’t the State done anything about it to help Alaskan’s. So I went straight to the source the local farmer. It surprised me to hear that the State did and tried but failed miserably by building way too big at the beginning. Meaning you need fertilizer to grow so the State built that of course way to big. Just to turn the lights on and manage it was way to expensive to operate so that failed. Next you need a place to store the seed and the same thing happen failed. There is over 100,000 acres of farmland is not being used to its potential because why nobody wants to do it and because even if you grow it how do you get it to market or to port.

  19. If Alaska can build a 800 mile pipeline, then they can build small, medium and large greenhouses.
    All over Alaska. Local. Remote. Villages. They can get solar panels, for keeping the soil warm (using ground rods) and it will keep the greenhouse inside warm, and productive enough to grow many varieties, locally, for all Alaskans. Might think about exporting the products at a later date. Incorporate and certify wild Alaska products.

  20. I think your comments about bigger government are right on. The composition of the task force is mostly bureaucrats so why not expand our bureaucracy? Hasn’t worked yet. Consider changing the ag covenant regs and let’s get these big ag projects back into production

  21. Govt cannot do any job better than the private sector, aka, farmers in Alaska. We can take $50M or more and utilize it to build winterized greenhouses in many locations. Or we can build a warehouse to build like Alaska Seed of Change built. Here is their excerpt, “All of our food is grown hydroponically (without soil), using ZipGrow Towers. Our crops grow vertically, maximizing space and energy in our indoor facilities.” We don’t need UAA profs or the UAF to do it. Using money wisely is REQUIRED. WE are about out of TIME. WEF is not waiting…..we are at a high risk…..get it started NOW. And that also means utilizing the farmers that grow/graft fruit trees. I just bought some in Chugiak. There are people on the KEnai Peninsula growing apple trees under an inverted hoop. What about the farmers coop, is there one in the MatSu or other Borough? I think every Borough should have a farmers cooperative and Work together better. Add the funding for this and whatever entity is needed NOW.

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