Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Side-by-side comparison of the 2008 Farm Bill with previous year

USDA's Economic Research Service has released a comparison of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (enacted June 2008) with the existing provisions. From their website:
The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, enacted into law in June 2008, will govern the bulk of Federal agriculture and related programs for the next 5 years. Its 15 titles include administrative and funding authorities for programs that cover income and commodity price support, farm credit, and risk management; conservation though land retirement, stewardship of land and water resources, and farmland protection; food assistance and agricultural development efforts abroad and promotion of international access to American farm products; food stamps, domestic food distribution, and nutrition initiatives; rural community and economic development initiatives, including regional development, rural energy efficiency, water and waste facilities, and access to broadband technology; research on critical areas of the agricultural and food sector; accessibility and sustainability of forests; encouraging production and use of agricultural and rural renewable energy sources; and initiatives for attracting and retaining beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The USDA provides a general portal to the Farm Bill as well, with notices of meetings, news briefs, and links to the text of the bill.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Alaska Grown challenge: Eat local for a week

Try it, you'll like it! Alaska Grown is sponsoring an Alaska Eat Local Challenge ("Local farmer seeks tasty relationship."), encouraging people to:

• eat at least one home-cooked meal this week with mostly local ingredients
• use at least one local ingredient you've never tried before
• try "brown-bagging" at least one meal, primarily made with local ingredients
• talk to at least one food retailer or producer about local food choices
• choose local food products whenever possible

The website lists the following benefits of eating locally: helps supports local farmers and farm economy; helps to keep you healthy; helps the environment by cutting down on excess transportation and "food miles"; and helps build community. The site also lists what's in season, farmers markets across the state where you can find fresh, locally grown food; and related events.

Wetlands 2008: Wetlands and Global Climate Change

Dr. Glenn Juday, professor of forest ecology at SNRAS, will be a plenary speaker at the 2008 annual meeting of the Association of State Wetland Managers, to be held in Portland, Oregon, September 16-18. From the online program:
Climate change needs to be addressed in the context of existing wetland management and conservation challenges. Discussion of current issues in wetland science, policy and management in combination with the more speculative dialogue on how to respond to climate change will help participants develop strategies to anticipate and adapt to regional changes in climate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sustainable agriculture in Alaska, part 2: small farm viability

Heidi Rader with a selection of vegetables grown in high tunnels and the field research plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, August 2006. Photo by Mia Peterburs.

Heidi Rader, who graduated from SNRAS with a master's degree in resources management, conducted her research on how changes in technology, such as high tunnels (temporary, quonset-hut style field greenhouses) for season extension, or distribution techniques, such as Community Supported Agriculture arrangements (CSA), can improve the economic and environmental viability of small-scale agriculture in Alaska. She looked at several factors affecting the success of small farms:
"Improved efficiency doesn't have to mean economies of larger scale, increased mechanization, higher chemical inputs, or genetically engineered crops. Lowering costs by decreasing dependence on fossil fuel can increase profit margins. A small farm might have an advantage over a large one if they incorporate new technologies, decrease distribution distances, and have a more direct relationship with the consumer.... I want to find out how small improvements in technology, input levels, distribution channels, and marketing systems can alter the viability of small farming operations."
Working with her thesis advisor Dr. Meriam Karlsson, professor of horticulture at SNRAS, Rader determined that high tunnels may be a practical and affordable way to extend the growing season, protect field crops from hail or snow damage, and improve the produce quality.

High tunnels on Rader's research plots at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm. Photo courtesy Heidi Rader.

To distribute her research crops, Rader set up a CSA for about twenty subscribers, also students. Some produce was also provided on a weekly basis to the UAF catering operation. In researching CSA distribution, she found that more flexible programs "with less stringent time commitments and delivery schedules may attract more customers for locally grown produce."

Another former master's degree student at SNRAS, Susan Willsrud, went on to form Calypso Farm & Ecology Center, a Fairbanks-area CSA and nonprofit agricultural education center. This successful farm has inspired other CSAs, teaches workshops, and sponsors two educational programs, the Schoolyard Garden Initiative and Employing Alaskan Teens in Gardening, which themselves feed many families. The farm has 65-80 shareholders and a waiting list, and is experimenting with seed saving and looking at micro-regional variety development.

CSAs are only one marketing technique that small farms have used successfully to establish good relationships with their customers. In further posts, we'll examine other methods that local agriculturalists have used to raise and market their crops.

(See also part one of this series.)

Links, articles, and other resources on small farms and distributing to local markets:
Alaska Division of Agriculture, including links to marketing assistance programs.
Alaska Root Cellar, Anchorage Daily News blog by Kim Sollien.
Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket, by Brian Halweil. 2004, Worldwatch Institute.
Global Food Collaborative, a private initiative to support the food industry in Alaska, specifically to the collaborative's members.
• "Local farmers are foundation of Alaska's food system," Alaska Root Cellar, March 5, 2008.
The Next Green Revolution: Essential Steps to a Healthy, Sustainable Agriculture, by J.E. Horne and M. McDermott. 2001, McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.
Sitka's community greenhouse page, including many links to articles on greenhouse construction.
• "Small farm viability," by Doreen Fitzgerald, Heidi Rader, and Meriam Karlsson. Fall 2006. Agroborealis vol. 38 no. 1 (PDF).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dedication of Kerttula Hall

Photo by Norman Harris.

The Palmer Research Laboratory of the Alaska Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station is to be renamed "Kerttula Hall" in honor of Senator Jay Kerttula on Friday, August 29, 4 pm, to celebrate agricultural research in Alaska and the efforts on its behalf by our state's longest-serving legislator.

The lab, constructed in the early 1980s, has served as a resource for researchers, farmers, dairy owners, ranchers, miners, the petroleum industry, and educators. It has provided analyses of soil samples to guide farmers in fertilizing their crops, and of forage samples to assist animal producers in their feed and nutrition regimens. In cooperation with the Alaska Division of Agriculture’s Plant Materials Center, the lab is used to analyze seeds and plant materials for market. Research and production in agriculture and natural resources have benefited from the work performed at the lab: potato and vegetable production; hay, forage, and grain production; beef and dairy cattle genetics and diets; and work on revegetation for the trans-Alaska pipeline, Prudhoe Bay oilfields, and Alaska mines.
Main desk, with entrance to lab off-photo at left. Phyllis Craig is at right. On the wall hangs the original framed artist's rendition of the then-proposed lab. Photo by Norman Harris.

The laboratory also supports new work in biofuels using Alaska woody and crop biomass. It is shared with University of Alaska and federal and state agency scientists working in animal biology, and serves as a teaching laboratory for graduate and undergraduate students. The laboratory has become an essential element in research, education, and outreach of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. It is the source of critical support to farmers throughout Alaska, rural communities interested in food stability, urban and suburban gardeners, and the growing community of ‘farmette’ owners.
Interior of the lab. Photo by Norman Harris.

A lifelong interest in agriculture led Senator Kerttula to create the Alaska Division of Agriculture, and his desire to serve the agricultural industry in Alaska and in the Matanuska Valley led him to pursue funding for an agricultural laboratory. The Palmer Research Laboratory is a tribute to his understanding of the needs of the industry, so it is only fitting that the lab bear his name.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sustainable agriculture in Alaska, part 1: background

Photo taken at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm circa 1925, showing a luxuriant growth of sunflowers. Photo courtesy Rasmuson Library Archives, Alaska and Polar Regions, Agricultural Experiment Station Collection, accession #68-4-142.

SNRAS and AFES, like the other land-grant colleges and experiment stations established by the Morrill and Hatch acts, were founded to provide science-based information to farmers: agricultural research and the science and economics of agriculture. For a hundred years, the Alaska station has been producing and testing northern-region varieties and providing solid information to help Alaska's farmers sustain the local population. Yet, even though it came close in the Tanana Valley in the 1920s and the Matanuska Valley in the 1930s, Alaska agriculture hasn't been able to sustain itself.

Historically, Alaska has never been able to feed its people entirely through home-grown agriculture, in part because the territory and state lacked the appropriate infrastructure, in part because of the unique climatic challenges posed, and in part simply a lack of faith that agriculture could succeed in an "ice box." There haven't been enough farms for the population, nor support for the industry. Alaskans have had to depend on hunting and gathering from wild sources, and on imports from Outside.

"Sustainability," like many other frequently used terms, could be in danger of becoming a buzzword—except that its meaning is particularly apt when applied to the longstanding needs of Alaska and especially of recent times, when fuel and petroleum price increases are driving up the costs of shipping and agriculture everywhere. Instead of being cheaper to ship food and farming supplies from Outside, it is becoming more feasible economically to develop and expand the local industry. The cost of petroleum (even in our oil-rich state), the concerns with climate change, and interest in green practices are combining to create a resurgence of interest in Alaska agriculture. "Sustainable agriculture" in Alaska faces the problems of small markets, few producers, minimal infrastructure, vast distances, and extreme climatic conditions; to succeed, environmentally sustainable systems have to be economically feasible.

Sustainable agriculture depends on native plants and animals where feasible, locally developed and grown food and other agricultural products, and locally manufactured value-added goods, doing this in a way that enhances environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends (for example, biodiversity, soil, water, air). First and foremost, of course, sustainable agriculture feeds and clothes people. It makes efficient use of nonrenewable resources, and depends as much as possible on renewable ones. It integrates, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls. It sustains the economic viability of farm operations and it enhances the quality of life not only for farmers but for society as a whole.

Researchers, students, and alumni at SNRAS and AFES are concentrating on both the ecological and fiscal aspects of sustainability, as are those at the Cooperative Extension Service (in 1988, Congress established the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, or SARE, as part of the extension service).

Research at the university includes investigations into market development, Alaska-grown food product development, new crops such as peonies, alternative northern livestock such as reindeer or muskoxen, propagation and nutritional characteristics of wild crops such as teas or berries, best growing practices for forages and other crops, light sensitivity for horticultural crops, controlled environments to extend the growing season, and other topics. Further posts in this series will profile the main approaches to improving the sustainability of Alaska agriculture.

Publications and links on the history of agriculture in Alaska and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station:
• "Alaska's State-Fund Agriculture Projects and Policy—Have They Been a Success?" (PDF), by Darcy Denton Davies. SNRAS Senior Thesis, May 2007, ST 2008-01.
•"An Interpretive History of Alaskan Agriculture," paper by Charles E. Logsdon. 1977, Alaska Alaska Historical Society (Kenai).
Like a Tree to the Soil: a history of farming in the Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940, by Josephine E. Papp and Josie A. Phillips. Book published by SNRAS, 2008.
Matanuska Valley Memoir: The Story of How One Alaskan Community Developed, by Hugh A. Johnson and Keith L. Stanton. 3rd edition, July 1955, AFES Bulletin 18.
• "Throw All Experiments to the Wind": Practical Farming and the Fairbanks Agricultural Experiment Station, 1907–1915" (PDF), by Rochelle Lee Pigors. SNRAS Senior Thesis, December 1996, ST 2006-01.
General links and information on sustainable agriculture:
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (USDA website)
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
SARE (national website)
• USDA's links and information access tools about sustainable agriculture

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Geography conference update

Due dates on abstracts have been updated for the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers conference:
The submission of paper and poster abstracts must be done electronically by e-mailing your abstract to by 11:59 PM on September 8, 2008 for both papers and posters.

LTER talk: Permafrost Thawing and Thermokarst Formation

The Bonanza Creek Long-Term Eological Research program at its monthly meeting will feature speakers Ted Schuur and Jeremy Jones, speaking on permafrost thawing and the formation of thermokarsts.

Date: August 11, 2008, Monday
Time: 3 to 5 pm
Location: UAF campus, Irving building room 201

Honors students at SNRAS

The dean's office is pleased to announce the SNRAS students named to the dean's and chancellor's lists for the spring 2008 semester. The lists recognize students’ outstanding academic achievements. Students receiving all As or a 4.0 grade point average are placed on the chancellor's list, while those receiving an A- grade point average of between 3.5 and 3.99 are named to the deans' list for each school.

UAF is a Land, Sea and Space Grant institution with an enrollment of more than 9,000 students. Located 160 miles south of the Arctic Circle, UAF is the only doctoral-degree-granting institution in the state. Since it was founded in 1917, UAF has been internationally recognized for research relating to the Arctic and subarctic, in areas such as biology, geophysics, engineering, natural resources, and global climate change. The School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Alaska Agricultural Experiment Station has roots in the very founding of the University of Alaska, when it was known as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. The people who have influenced the history of the university have, first and foremost, been its students.

The SNRAS honors students are:
Chancellor's List: Jennifer Kapla, Kirsten Woodard
Dean's List: Nelson Crone, Nicholas Thompson, Robert Mikol, Taylor Beard, Theresia Buchholz
Go here for the complete UAF honors list.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Community-specific climate projection fact sheets from SNAP

For communities interested in climate projections for their area, SNAP can produce graphs of projections of mean monthly temperature and precipitation by decade from the present to 2100. These fact sheets, available for more than 350 towns and villages in Alaska, provide simple temperature and precipitation graphs with basic interpretation of the graphs. The graphs show mean monthly figures for three periods: 1961-1990 (actual historical data), 2041-2050, and 2091-2100 (projections). The data are based on global models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change using a moderate scenario.

Below is an example of the temperature projection for Petersburg.

Other maps, graphs, and datasets are available from SNAP as well, organized by region and topic.

Contact Nancy Fresco, network coordinator at SNAP, if you'd like a fact sheet for your community: (907) 474-2405.