Monday, March 11, 2019

OneTree Alaska to host birch sap cooperative meeting

OneTree Alaska will host a meeting to organize its birch sap cooperative Friday, March 15, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Nicole Dunham pours birch sap collected on the UAF
campus into another bucket. UAF photo by Todd Paris
Program lead Jan Dawe and OneTree staff will explain how to collect sap and how the cooperative works, and UAF climate researcher Rick Thoman will talk about how to predict green-up.

The meeting will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the OneTree STEAM studio in the old Lola Tilly Commons kitchen. Buckets, taps, and a limited amount of tubing may be checked out at the meeting or from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, March 16.

This is the third year for the cooperative. Once the birch sap starts flowing in the Interior— usually in mid-April — volunteers collect and bring it to OneTree to be processed. The sap is used in OneTree’s sap processing research and to raise money to support its operations. Sap collectors receive 20 percent of the syrup in exchange for their efforts, a sweet reward. Last year, more than 50 individuals and classrooms from Salcha to Two Rivers collected 4,500 gallons of birch sap.

Although the ratio varies for year to year, Dawe said it takes about 110 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. This year the program will experiment with vacuum pressure methods that will allow the processing crew to reduce the heat used.

The program has birch caramels and birch syrup available for sale. UAF’s birch sap work is modeled on successful maple research programs at the University of Vermont and Cornell University.

OneTree Alaska is an educational and research program affiliated with the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension and is supported in part by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power. For more information, contact Dawe at or OneTree at 907-474-5517.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Delta Farm Form set for March 2 in Delta Junction

A farmer drives a windrower near Delta Junction. Edwin Remsberg photo
The 47th annual Delta Farm Forum will take place March 2 in Delta Junction.

The forum features the latest agricultural news, recommendations and research. It’s also a community event. Milan Shipka, the acting director of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension, will welcome participants at 9 a.m. and the forum will run until about 4:30 p.m. in the Delta High School small gym.

Topics will include the livestock industry, the Alaska Farmers Co-op new seed-cleaning service, reindeer and red meat production, a new Fairbanks fiber mill, produce safety and non-timber forest products permits.

Dr. Robert Gerlach, the state veterinarian, will talk about Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, or M. ovi, a respiratory pathogen that affects domestic and wild sheep, goats and musk ox. Gerlach will provide background on the pathogen and talk about how Alaska’s situation is different than the Lower 48, where a strain of the pathogen has caused disease and death in bighorn sheep. He will discuss research results and discuss options the state and livestock producers have to mitigate the threat of pathogen transfer between livestock and wildlife.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says the pathogen has been detected in a small number of Dall sheep and mountain goats, in healthy moose and caribou in Alaska and in a small number of domestic sheep and goats, which did not show signs of illness.

See the full schedule for the forum. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District and the Partners for Progress in Delta, Inc. co-sponsor the forum.  For more information, contact Delta Extension at 907-895-4215 or at, or call the conservation district at 907-895-6279.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Milan Shipka named acting director of SNRE

Milan Shipka
Milan Shipka has been named acting director of the School of Natural Resources and Extension.

UAF Provost Anupma Prakash appointed Shipka to the position on Feb. 11. SNRE includes the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (AFES) and the school’s academic degree programs.

On July 1, the academic programs will move into the College of Natural Science and Mathematics as part of a university reorganization. Shipka will then serve as the acting director for the combined AFES and Extension unit.

The provost said, “Milan Shipka brings a deep understanding of UAF’s land-grant mission, a vast experience of managing capacity building grants and contracts, and a strong and inclusive leadership style. I look forward to working with him to reinvigorate the programs and activities supported by SNRE.”

Shipka earned a doctorate in biology with an emphasis on animal physiology in 1996 from Utah State University and has been with UAF since 1999. He became the research director for SNRE and director for the Agricultural and Forestry Experimental Station in 2015. A professor of animal science, Shipka has maintained teaching and research activity in animal science and sustainable agriculture, and works with livestock producers throughout the state.

Shipka takes on the leadership of SNRE from Fred Schlutt, who plans to move to Texas, his home state. Schlutt, formerly the vice provost for Extension and Outreach, served as the Cooperative Extension Service director since May 2009.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Matanuska Experiment Farm history retold

The manager's house at the Matanuska Experiment Farm is seen here as it
looked in the fall of 2018, when it one of a few buildings at the farm. The
drawing is based on photograph in the Alaska Engineering Commission
collection at the Anchorage Museum. Ray Bonnell sketch
By Ray Bonnell
The Matanuska Experiment Farm, 38 miles northeast of Anchorage near the junction of the Glenn and Parks Highways, was the last of seven agricultural experiment stations established by the federal government between 1898 and 1917. The first six stations were in Sitka, Kodiak, Kenai, Rampart, Copper Center and Fairbanks.

After the Alaska Engineering Commission initiated construction of the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks in 1914, people began filing homestead entries along the railroad right-of-way in the Matanuska and Susitna Valleys, as well as along trails and waterways in the area. Including existing homesteads, hundreds of applications for entry were soon filed. A 1955 Matanuska Experiment Station publication, “Matanuska Memoir,” states that the peak year was 1916 when 111 homestead entries were recorded.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a rudimentary soils reconnaissance in 1914 and approved an experiment station for the area in 1915. A 240-acre parcel for the station was selected just north of the Alaska Railroad, about six miles north of the Knik River and seven miles east of the new town of Wasilla. Work on the station began in April of 1917.

The manager’s house was constructed that year. The house, shown in the drawing, is a one-and-a-half-story wood-frame Arts and Crafts bungalow with a gabled roof and dormer. The 32-foot by 42-foot building is sheathed with beveled siding. The drawing shows the house as it looked in 1918, soon after completion.

The term “bungalow” refers to the style of the house, rather than the modern meaning of a small house. Bungalow comes from the Hindi word “bangla,” meaning a house in the “Bengal” style. The style was brought to Great Britain from India, and then came to the Americas. Typically, bungalows were one to one-and-a-half-stories tall, with low-pitched roofs, wide eaves and large verandas or porches. The style was modified during the Arts and Crafts Movement (antithesis to Industrial Design) of the early 1900s to emphasize simplified design, hand craftsmanship, the use of natural building materials, and incorporating exposed structural features such as the triangular knee braces under the eaves.

The station’s first few years were spent clearing land, erecting new buildings and beginning research projects. Between 1917 and 1929, five structures that still stand were built: the manager’s house, the Kodiak Cottage (a residence originally located at the Kodiak experiment station but moved to Matanuska in 1922), a mess hall, a dormitory, and another residence called the Herdsman’s House.

Alaska’s agricultural experiment station program suffered a major setback during the Great Depression. Due to the nation’s financial calamity, the federal government dropped support for the experiment station program. Four stations had already closed: Kenai (1908), Copper Center (1908), Kodiak (1922), and Rampart (1923). Of the three Alaska stations still in operation, the Sitka station closed in 1930, the Fairbanks station was transferred to the Alaska Agricultural College in 1931 and the Matanuska station transferred to the college the next year.

Territorial funds were strained already, and work at the two remaining stations suffered for years afterward. It was not until 1947 that the federal government, in partnership with the, by then, University of Alaska, resumed research activities at the experiment farms. At the same time, the university also assumed responsibility for a Territorial Game Commission experimental fur farm in Petersburg (closed in 1974).

Over the years the farm, now called the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center, has expanded. According to the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Extension, the farm now includes 260 acres of cultivated land and 800 acres of forest land which is used for research and education.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the author. Ray Bonnell is a freelance artist, writer and longtime Fairbanks resident. See more of his artwork at

Monday, January 28, 2019

2018 Interior vegetable variety trials at Georgeson

Nicole Dunham poses with an healthy beet specimen.
Heidi Rader photo
By Heidi Rader
In the summer of 2018, two research assistants and I tested different varieties of beets, carrots and celery in replicated trials at the Georgson Botanical Garden and Brussels sprouts, beans, corn, and watermelon in unreplicated trials. Replicated trials mean the vegetables were grown in three different plots. Preliminary trials were done mainly to decide which crops and varieties warranted further testing.

The goal of these trials is to help Interior gardeners and farmers like you decide whether or not to stick with your tried-and-true varieties or try something new. Sometimes we're forced to try new varieties when old favorites are “improved” or discontinued.

One example is Nelson carrots, a longtime favorite of Fairbanks gardeners. Although we were able to find them from West Coast Seeds, they are not available from some of the larger seed suppliers. We trialed Yaya and Romance carrots, which have been touted as replacements for Nelson, with lackluster results.

It's important to test how varieties perform in our unique conditions, which are characterized by long days and short summers that vacillate between sometimes very cool temperatures and hot temperatures. As you might recall in the summer of 2018, we had a slow, cold first half of June, some hot days in June and July, and a rainy, cold August. We had a late frost in September with some sunny days. This certainly influenced how the crops and varieties we tested grew.

In addition to weighing each crop and variety, we also rated each variety in terms of plant vigor, bolting sensitivity (or susceptibility to bolt), uniformity, pest resistance, disease resistance and taste.

The four top performing beets were Zeppo, Boro, Subeto, and Pablo, none of which are mentioned in Extension’s “Recommended Variety List for Interior Alaska,” which you can see at Further testing could warrant changing this. The lowest performers in terms of yield and tendency to bolt were Falcon, Early Blood Turnip and Lutz Green Leaf. Early Blood Turnip and Lutz Green Leaf varieties are open-pollinated so these are good choices if you want to save seeds. In fact, according to one website, Early Blood Turnip is one of the oldest varieties still in cultivation.

According to our taste testers, Detroit Dark Red was the tastiest while Falcon and Red Ace had the lowest ratings for taste and texture.

Carrot yields were not statistically significantly different in spite of variations. Napoli had the highest yields while Sugarsnax had the lowest. We noted that Eskimo, Nantes Half Long, and Nelson were uniform and had a nice carrot shape. Touchon, Nelson and, not surprisingly, Sugarsnax scored highest in taste tests.

Glenna Gannon hilled celery to promote
blanching or whitening of the lower stalks.
Nearly all celery varieties shined. Tango averaged the highest yield at 4.9 lbs. per row feet. Redventure yields were significantly lower than the other varieties and had hollow shoots that tasted bitter. Although we didn't evaluate varieties in terms of nutrition, it could be that Redventure, with its red hue and bitter taste, could be more nutritious than the other varieties. I talked about the differences in nutrition among various vegetables and varieties at

Provider is the standard, cold weather snap bean for Interior Alaska and, not surprisingly, was the highest yielding in our trials. But Rocdor and Bountiful weren't far behind and Rocdor also continued to produce well in cool, rainy conditions. I've never considered Provider the tastiest of beans, but according to our taste tests, it had the highest combined ratings for taste and texture.

Some Brussels sprouts require upwards of 200 days to mature but we focused on trialing early to mid-season varieties including Franklin (80 days) and Jade Cross (85 days), and on the later end, Dimitri (127 days). Jade Cross and Hestia were the highest-yielding varieties, but some Jade Cross plants lodged and produced loose sprouts. Gustus, Nautic, and Franklin all performed well. Rubine, Catskill, and Long Island Improved were the poorest performers.

In spite of an underwhelming summer in terms of sun and heat, the corn did alright. Cafe and Sugar Pearl had the highest yields, Early Sunglow and Earlivee were the earliest, and Sweetness, Sugar Pearl, Sugar Buns, Spring Treat and Espresso were the tastiest.

The watermelon produced flowers, and small fruits, but never matured.

The full 2018 report and results from past trials can be found here:
Heidi Rader is a tribes Extension educator for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service and the Tanana Chiefs Conference and is the project director for the variety trials.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Economist analyzes Alaska resource issues

Read about the economic research conducted by Professor Joshua Greenberg in the newest Agroborealis Research Highlight.

As the natural resource economist for School of Natural Resources and Extension, Greenberg studies the effects of resource policies and develops economic models. Recently, he developed a series of business plans for Savoonga to consider whether to develop a commercial reindeer business. Greenberg has specialized in fisheries, but he has studied many other resource issues, including the feasibility of raising musk ox for qiviut, the economic value of reindeer range, the peony industry, sustainable livestock production and carbon sequestration. The Agroborealis Research Highlight describes his work over the past 30 years.

Two additional Highlights were posted this year. One highlight describes recreation research by Pete Fix, an associate professor with the UAF School of Natural Resources and Extension. Fix and two other recreation researchers have developed a cost-effective approach that will be used nationally to evaluate visitor experiences on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

A second highlight looks at Greg Finstad’s reindeer research and outreach, which has focused on helping develop a local red meat industry. Finstad is the program manager for the UAF Reindeer Research Program and teaches High Latitude Range Management classes through the Northwest Campus in Nome.

Agroborealis Research Highlights are published online twice yearly by the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and School of Natural Resources and Extension at The two-page highlights are downloadable.

Links to the stories will be emailed when they are posted on this site. If you’d like to be added to the email list, please subscribe here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

United Nations agency to honor UAF weather station

Alan Tonne stands in the Fairbanks Experiment Farm weather station.
He records weather information daily at 8 a.m. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
The Fairbanks Experiment Farm operates the longest continuously running weather observation station in Alaska.

The farm has been steadfastly recording weather data since July 1, 1911. The station is unusual because of its long-term record of weather data collected in essentially the same location — a small, fenced area in front of the farm’s old visitor center.

Reliable weather data collected over a long period of time in the same location is valuable to climate scientists and others, says John Walsh, one of several University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists who will speak at a Nov. 30 recognition ceremony for the station.

The station is one of four long-term observing stations in the U.S. the World Meteorological Organization will honor this year. An awards ceremony will take place from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in Room 501 of the Akasofu Building, on the campus’ West Ridge. The public is invited.

The World Meteorological Organization is a United Nations agency that supports the worldwide collection of reliable weather data for science. In 2017, it started recognizing “centennial stations,” or stations that had collected weather data in one location for more than 100 years.

The maximum and minimum temperatures are collected with a
digital thermometer. All other weather records are gathered
on site. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
Walsh is the chief scientist for the International Arctic Research Center and an expert in climate change and sea ice. Relatively few weather stations have that long record because after commercial airports opened, most stations moved to an airport, he said. The National Weather Service in Fairbanks moved from Weeks Field to the Fairbanks International Airport in 1951.

“The station down there is key,” he said of the farm. “The long, consistent record is important when you’re looking at the difference of 1 to 2 degrees over 100 years.”

Walsh has used the station’s records to study changes in snow cover. When the ground gains or loses its snow cover, daily temperatures can change by 10 degrees because snow reflects more sunlight. He studied the records for sudden jumps of temperature that could indicate snow cover or a lack of it.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist for the university, has used the station’s records to look at changes in the growing season. The growing season at the station has lengthened by 23 days over the last 50 years, from 1969 to 2018, he said. The longer growing season is not as pronounced at the airport, which is only four miles away at a slightly lower elevation. The freeze-free season has only been extended by 10 days.

Glenn Juday, a retired UAF forest ecologist, said experiment stations around the country began collecting weather information because of its importance to farmers. When Fairbanks’ earliest residents arrived, no one really knew what would grow in Alaska’s climate or how long the growing season was.

“It was considered essential data,” he said.

Alan Tonne shows how he records the weather information.
Juday has used the weather records to study how temperature, precipitation and other weather events affect the growth and health of trees of the same year.

“Essentially half of the variability of the growth of the tree is connected to weather parameters,” he said.

Carven Scott, who heads the National Weather Service in Alaska, will present a bronze plaque to Alan Tonne, the farm’s manager and principal collector of weather data over the past 13 years. Tonne takes the weather observations at 8 a.m. each day. Maximum and minimum temperatures are measured electronically, but Tonne measures evaporation and wind volume, precipitation and snow depth on site.

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm took over weather observation duties in 1911 from the Episcopal Church, which had collected weather information beginning in 1904. The experiment farm remained the only weather station in Fairbanks until the U.S. Weather Bureau opened an office in downtown Fairbanks in 1929. The farm’s weather station is now one nine active cooperative observing stations in the Fairbanks area that provide community weather information.

A total of seven stations have been recognized in the U.S. as centennial stations. Others recognized this year are in at the Buffalo Bill Dam in Wyoming; Purdum, Nebraska; and Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.

Hot tea and refreshments will be available at the Nov. 30 event.