Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Women in Agriculture Conference focuses on leadership

Women operate nearly a third of the 3.3 million farms in the United States, and they farm more that 301 million acres.

Women in Agriculture Conference participants listen to keynote speaker
Anne Schwartz in a classroom at the UAF Murie Building.
The statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture may seem surprising to some people, but probably not to participants in the sixth-annual Women in Agriculture Conference. The videoconference event on Saturday drew more than 50 women farmers and agency representatives to three sites in Alaska. They joined about 550 participants at 37 sites in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Alaska farmers participated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in Delta Junction and at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer. They included part-time and full-time women farmers who raised a variety of crops and animals — peonies and other flowers, vegetables, hay, barley, oats, buffalo, cattle, horses, poultry, rabbits and dairy cows.

The conference, because of the different time zones, started early in Alaska, at 7:30 a.m. The theme was leadership. Conference chair Margaret Viebrock provided an overview of the day’s events and encouraged women to watch for a USDA agricultural census coming in December.

“Let’s stand up and be counted for what we do,” she said, adding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides loans and marketing programs based on that information.

Viebrock said that women have been involved in agriculture a long time. She showed photographs of women on tractors taken during a World War II-era “tractorette” training at Washington State College, which is now Washington State University, the conference host.

Keynote speaker Alexis Taylor stressed the importance of letting young people know that there are a lot of careers in agriculture — on and off the farm.

Taylor, who grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Iowa, said that experience convinced her that she did not want to farm but she has had a good career working in agriculture. She served as an executive with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, most recently, as the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Taylor said she benefited from mentors, and she challenged participants to get a mentor or to mentor someone. She also encouraged young women to find an agricultural internship or to ask a farmer or agency for an internship.

“We as women are natural networkers,” she said.

Taylor also encouraged participants to get involved in agricultural policy making at the community or state level. Women are underrepresented on boards and commissions that would benefit by increased diversity, she said.

The other keynote speaker, Anne Swartz, lives on a small farm in western Washington and grows vegetables and fruit. She describes herself as an activist working for the protection of soil and natural resources. She encourages activism and volunteerism at the local, state or national levels.

“My goal today is to inspire you to leave your farm a little bit,” she said. “Agriculture needs advocates.”

Several participants at the Fairbanks site were part-time farmers who hoped to become full-time after retiring from another job.

Beth Cender and her husband bought acreage near Kenny Lake in 2008 and have been raising hay and selling a variety of herbs and vegetables to area residents. Cender moved to Fairbanks for a job with the Division of Forestry but she hopes to return to Kenny Lake and farming when she retires in a few years. Her husband continues to farm on a reduced scale and she helps when she can.

Saturday was Cender’s second Women in Agriculture Conference. “It’s a way of connecting with other people interested in agriculture,” she said.

Ronda Schlumbohm, a teacher at Salcha Elementary School, was also attending the conference for the second time. She says, “I grow kids in the winter and peonies in the summer.”

She and her husband, Brian, planted 300 peony roots in 2014 and have since planted 1,700 more at their place off the Eielson Farm Road. Eventually she hopes to grow flowers full-time.

She said the conference is valuable to her because it helps her understand farming. “I think you have to get out there to figure things out,” she said.


The School of Natural Resources and Extension hosted the conference at UAF, and with Alaska Farmland Trust, at the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center. The Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District hosted the event in Delta Junction.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Reindeer Research Program trains prospective herders

Robert Wright of Tanana helps hold a reindeer Tuesday
as Erin Carr talks about using a squeeze chute to
immobilize the reindeer while weighing and giving
them medication.
The Reindeer Research Program, working with the Tanana Chiefs Conference, hosted a five-day workshop on reindeer production last week at UAF and in Delta Junction.

Program manager Greg Finstad said 10 participants attended from Fairbanks, Stevens Village, Ruby and Tanana.

Several communities are considering raising reindeer to provide food for their residents and possibly meat for sale. Finstad said the workshop was intended to help people gain knowledge and experience about reindeer and to help communities decide whether they want to raise them.

The training covered nutrition and feeding, facility design, animal husbandry, low-stress herding, handling and transport, and herd health management. The workshop combined lectures with field learning at the Reindeer Research Program’s facility at the experiment farm and the Stevens Village farm near Delta Junction, which raises bison and a few reindeer.

Tanana resident Charlie Wright participated in the training with his son, Robert. He said hopes to work with Tozitna, the village corporation in Tanana, to start a reindeer operation. He said raising reindeer could improve food security in the community and create a business that could provide year-round jobs.

“We’re really serious about it,” Wright said. He adds that the new road to the Yukon River makes the idea more feasible.

Wright notes that moose and caribou populations have decreased in recent years. “I think it’s important to have another food resource besides salmon.”
Greg Finstad talks about the veterinary care of reindeer as Robert
Wright looks on.


Ed Sarten, a natural resources specialist for Ruby tribal government, said Ruby also was interested in reindeer. Reindeer used be raised at Kokrines, which is now a ghost town upriver from Ruby, he said.

Sarten said Ruby was also interested reindeer as a source of food for the residents. At the same time, he said, “We would hope it would eventually be a business.”

On Tuesday, participants gathered at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm to see how reindeer feed is prepared. Reindeer caretaker Erin Carr explained that barley and oats are combined with canola oil to make the feed stick together and the mixture is then blended with brome hay for more fiber. Carr also displayed items for a first aid box, including hoof shears, gloves and medicines. She said it was important to get to know the reindeer so you know when they’re acting differently and are sick.

Afterward, the group met in the program’s facility and pens across from the Georgeson Botanical Garden. They got advice on herding and experience using a canvas-covered “squeeze chute” to hold the reindeer while weighing them, taking their temperature or providing medications. Students took turns holding the reindeer by their antlers in the squeeze chute as they were weighed.

The group considered a group of female reindeer, and drawing from an earlier lesson on body scoring, Finstad asked the group how they would rate a particular reindeer.

One of the trainees said, She’s definitely a 5. Nice and fat.”

The day ended with a herding activity, getting the novice herders to move reindeer from one pen to another. Finstad told the group, “This is your reindeer herd to move. Figure it out together.”

Repeatedly, the reindeer thundered past the herders until they successfully coaxed the herd into another pen and into a chute. Clearly, experience helped.

The workshop was supported by a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ping, Weindorf recognized by Soil Science Society

Emeritus SNRE Soils Professor Chien-Lu Ping received the Soil Science Society of America’s Presidential Award at the society’s annual meeting in Tampa, Florida.

Chien-Lu Ping poses with his award and soil society
 president Andrew Sharpley.
David Weindorf, the executive producer of a climate change documentary that highlighted Ping’s career, also received the award at the Oct. 24 ceremony. Weindorf, an associate dean at Texas Tech University, taught the arctic soils field tour (NRM 489) with Ping for several years and will help teach the course next summer.

According to the society, the award is given to persons who “have influenced soil science or the practice of soil science so greatly that the impact of their efforts will be enduring on the future of our science and/or profession.”

Ping is known internationally for his work on carbon dynamics in arctic soils. Although he retired from the university in 2015, he has continued to work with Argonne National Laboratory, studying the structure and carbon storage distribution of ice-wedge polygons. Ping will continue field research on the North Slope next summer. He also serves as the major advisor for three natural resources management graduate students.

Ping has had an eventful year. He attended the March release of the documentary “Between Earth and Sky: Climate Change in the Last Frontier” at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.  Ping said the documentary started out to chronicle the soils tour for future students and it turned into something really special, with interviews with scientists, government officials, farmers and other Alaska residents affected by climate change.

“The producer, Professor Weindorf, did a fantastic job,” he said.

The audience at the film festival was very excited about the documentary and Weindorf introduced him at the end of the showing.  The documentary includes two of Ping’s former graduate students, retired Natural Resources Conservation Service state soils scientist Mark Clark and Lorene Lynn, who has established her own environmental consulting business.

“I feel honored,” he said. “I’m really pleased to have all those years of effort recognized and to raise the awareness of others to climate change. I feel like a catalyst.”

Another notable event this year was Hurricane Irma. Ping his family live in Orlando, Florida, and weathered the hurricane fairly well with no property damage but they lost their electricity for eight days.


Ping has maintained his commitment to the advancement of science after his retirement. On the average, he says he receives dozen requests per year to review manuscripts for scientific journals. In his spare time, he paints landscapes and wildlife, including dog mushing scenes in oil, as inspired by his dog mushing experience in the Goldstream Valley.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Comprehensive agronomic crop bulletin published

The Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station published a 252-page bulletin with information about agronomic crops it tested between 1978 and 2012.

Agronomists Bob Van Veldhuizen, Mingchu Zhang and Charles Knight are the authors of AFES Bulletin 116, “Performance of Agronomic Crop Varieties in Alaska 1978-2012.” The bulletin updates AFES Bulletin 111, which was published in 2004. The new bulletin includes additional information on crops tested since 2002 and adds six new crops: quinoa, chickpeas, mustard, camelina, crambe and borage.

Other varieties tested include barley, oats, wheat, rye and triticale, wild rice, canarygrass, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, field peas, canola, flax, sunflower, safflower, meadowfoam and Jerusalem artichoke.

Zhang describes the bulletin as “a starting point for farmers to look at if they are considering growing an agronomic crop.”

The bulletin is not intended as a crop production manual, he said. Its main purpose is to provide basic information on small grain and oilseed variety testing along with information on successful cultural practices identified by the research.

Bob Van Veldhuizen said the target audience is anyone in Alaska who might be interested in growing any of the crops or varieties listed. The bulletin describes production methods on a per-acre basis but the principles can be modified for small-scale production, he said.

The bulletin also includes any analyses that were done to determine the nutritional qualities of the crops, and their suitability for animal feed or in human diets. Van Veldhuizen said that information has been requested since the first version of the bulletin came out in 2004.

Specific crops are presented in separate chapters with information on fertilization, tillage, planting, pest control, diseases, harvest, and storage, and tables that list yields, maturity and quality for all known varieties tested at each location. References and seed sources for all recommended varieties are included in separate appendices. Variety trials took place at the Fairbanks and Matanuska experiment farms, at the Eielson Agricultural Project and in the Delta Junction area.

A 48-page supplement with details about variety trials in Fairbanks, “Agronomic Crop Variety Testing in Fairbanks, Alaska 1948-2013,” has also been published. Van Veldhuizen said the supplement includes the work of agronomists prior to the beginning of the time frame of Bulletin 116, from 1948 to 1978, as well as the crops and varieties tested after 1978. Van Veldhuizen said that the goal was to compile all the lists of crops and varieties tested in Fairbanks into one publication that would be available to anyone.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Early deadline nears for Women in Ag Conference

Nov. 5 is the early registration deadline for the Women in Agriculture Conference.

Alaska's women farmers will join other farmers from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington Nov. 18 for the sixth annual videoconference event. It will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 40 locations, including sites at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in Palmer and in Delta Junction.

"We can do it!" is the theme. Washington State University, which is coordinating the conference, says it is for women farmers and anyone who works with women farmers. Agriculture students and FFA and 4-H members are also invited. Organizers describe it as an "engaging, interactive day full of inspiration, learning and networking with other women farmers."

Guest speakers will include Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and Anne Schwartz, the owner of Blue Heron Farm in western Washington. Speakers will challenge participants to strengthen their leadership skills, become leaders in their communities, get more involved with longtime farmers and mentor new farmers. Each location will have a panel of local women farmers who will talk about the challenges they have faced and how they have used a mentor to develop skills.

The School of Natural Resources and Extension will host the event in Room 107 of the Murie Building on campus and, in conjunction with Alaska Farmland Trust, at the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center in Palmer. The Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District will host the event at the Delta Career Advancement Center in Delta Junction. Site coordinators are Meriam Karlsson at UAF, Susanna Pearlstein and Amy Pettit in Palmer and Bryce Wrigley in Delta Junction.

Early registration by Nov. 5 is $25 or $30 after that date. Agriculture students, farm interns, and FFA and 4-H youth members may register for $20. The registration fee includes a light breakfast, lunch and conference materials. See more details and online registration at www.WomenInAg.wsu.edu.

For more information about the UAF site, contact Meriam Karlsson at 907-474-7005 or mgkarlsson@alaska.edu; Susanna Pearlstein at the Matanuska Experiment Farm at 907-746-9466 or spearlstein@alaska.edu; or Bryce Wrigley in Delta Junction at 907-895-6279 or Bryce.wrigley@salchadeltaswcd.org.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Harvest Wrap-up set for Nov. 1 in Delta Junction

The annual Harvest Wrap-up meeting will take place Nov. 1 in Delta Junction.

Buckley Hollembaek is shown here in 2014 on the family farm in Delta
Junction. Edwin Remsberg photo
The gathering provides an opportunity for agricultural producers to hear about current research, share observations about the past season and help identify research needs. The UAF Cooperative Extension Service will host the meeting, which will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Delta Career Advancement Center.

Researchers from the School of Natural Resources and Extension and the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District will talk about research relating to weeds and herbicides, bromegrass hay fertilizer trials, a lime study and grain variety trials. They'll also provide information about the noxious weed program.

Speakers will include Phil Kaspari, the Extension agriculture agent in Delta Junction; Meghan Lene and Vanessa Heath of the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District; and Mingchu Zhang, Robert Van Veldhuizen and Stephen Harvey of SNRE. Harvey is a graduate student and will present on small grains.

Arthur Keyes, director of the Alaska Division of Agriculture, will also participate. Two federal officials, Lloyd Wilhelm of the Farm Service Agency and Mike Stephens of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, will provide program updates. For more information, contact the  Extension office in Delta Junction at 907-895-4215.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Alaska Invasive Species Workshop hosted in Anchorage

The invasive aquatic plant, elodea, is shown in Badger Slough in this 2010
photo. Photo by Tricia Wurtz, U.S. Forest Service
The Alaska Invasive Species Workshop, Oct. 24-26 in Anchorage, will highlight the economic and environmental risks associated with invasive species.

Tobias Schwörer, a public policy researcher from the Institute of Social and Economic Research, will kick off the annual workshop with a free public presentation on that topic at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in the Anchorage Museum auditorium. The lecture will focus on the risks associated with the hardy invasive aquatic plant, elodea.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Alaska Committee For Noxious and Invasive Pest Management will host the workshop at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown.

Workshop coordinator Gino Graziano said concern about elodea keeps coming up because of new infestations in the lakes and slow-moving waters of Interior and Southcentral Alaska. Elodea can form tangled masses that foul floatplane rudders, degrade fish habitat and make boat travel difficult.

“Floatplane operators raised the alarm on Lake Hood,” Graziano said.

Herbicide treatments have been effective in Lake Hood and other lakes, but eradicating elodea in slow-moving waters provides a greater challenge, he said. This past summer Potter Marsh and Chena Slough were treated. Graziano said the plant, which is thought to have come from aquariums or science kits, spreads easily.

The invasive species workshop brings together land managers and others involved in management, research and education efforts. Other topics will include regulations and legislation; research relating to northern pike and bird vetch; invasive slugs in the Chugach National Forest; pesticide control projects; and efforts to monitor and report invasive species.

Agenda and registration information are available at www.alaskainvasives.org. For more information, contact Graziano at 907-786-6315 or gagraziano@alaska.edu.