Steve Brown gave a presentation on turfgrass airstrips and the research that UAF is doing on aviation turf. Damage to small airplanes from gravel kicked up from airstrips is a significant problem, but it turns out that some native Alaska grasses may have the answer. Red fescue is an agressive, sod-forming grass that grows well in gravel or on rock, and is so tough that it can prevent invasion by willow or alder (another problem with gravel runways in Alaska). Gravel is much cheaper and more practical than pavement, but turfgrass can be even better. Brown recommended grading the runway to encourage drainage and prevent puddling, removing cobbles, and taking random soil samples throughout the runway before seeding. Arctared fescue does better north of the Alaska Range, but grows taller. Boreal red fescue does best south of the Alaska Range, and flops over after reaching a certain height, so it doesn't need to be mowed.
Ross Coen and Donavan Kienenberger gave a presentation on the Alaska Growers School, a joint project of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. Food costs in rural Alaska are much higher, as much as 49% more than in urban areas for a family of four. While getting a greenhouse shipped out to a village and maintaining it can be expensive, it can still be more affordable to buy produce grown that way than to have it shipped (and more readily available). The ACEP is working on a greenhouse in Fort Yukon, where the waste heat from diesel generators can be captured. The heat these gensets produce is created anyway as a byproduct of electricity generation, and can extend the growing season. Many communities already use this heat to supply community buildings with heat, but may still be able use some of the heat to extend the season. "It's a use it or lose it situation," said Coen. While communities may not be able to grow hothouse tomatoes in January, greenhouse produce might still be possible year round or with a greatly extended season by using a secondary heat source, such as a wood-fired boiler).
Coen described the EPA's Climate Showcase Communities Program, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions, and Alaska's first project under the grant. Originally slated for Galena, this project is now planned for Fort Yukon, and will use a heat recovery system, thus reducing transport costs and solid waste as well as reducing carbon release. Local people will be trained as full-time employees for seasonal work, with potential for year-round employment.
The Alaska Food Policy Council gave a brief outline of its new strategic plan for the next three years, with its goals of:
- Developing school-based programs and policies;
- Strengthening the "Seven Percent" statute (AS 36.15.050) and the Procurement Preference for State Agricultural and Fisheries Products (Sec. 29.71.040);
- Developing community level and comprehensive statewide emergency food preparedness plan(s);
- Becoming a research aggregator and resource on food system issues;
- Supporting existing local food system leaders, projects, events, and activities that support Alaska’s food system.
SNRAS professor Jan Rowell gave an overview of the results of the Sustainable Livestock Conference held in October 2011. It is both possible and profitable to raise red meat in Alaska, Rowell began, yet less than 1% of the meat consumed in the state is locally produced. She and her fellow researchers needed feedback from producers and got funding to hold a conference. There were better than 80 attendees, 35 of whom were meat producers with another 9 in related businesses. The keynote speaker was Dr. John Ikerd. All farming in Alaska is done on small farms, and it is small farms that re at the vanguard of sustainable agriculture. Small farms embodied the principles of sustainability: ecological compatibility, economic viability, and concern for socially acceptable practice.
Rowell described the 200+ written comments they needed to distill down, working from basic questions on production and education. Access to affordable, available land was a barrier. Information on how to start farming, the appropriate species and breeds for Alaska and the region, sustainable practices, the economic break points, local fertilizers, farm mentoring, and more were discussed. The university could assist with feasibility studies, enterprise budgets, cool tools, a redesigned curriculum, more distance delivery. The public's responsibility is in the area of organizing into stakeholder groups to affect policy. The conference organizing committee is working on a white paper (to be published in early summer) and hopes to keep the dialogue going through an Alaska Diversified Livestock Association planning meeting for October 2012, to bring in a speaker and serve as a venue to convene a first stakeholder meeting.
Phil Kaspari, Cooperative Extension agricultural agent for the Delta Junction area and associated with the Pesticide Safety Education Program, and a yak farmer, gave a talk on small pasture management, going over economics of scale and other questions: how much equipment do you need for a small group of animals? what does a farmer need to consider when thinking about a home herd vs. a commercial herd? do you want to increase production to meet market demands?
For reducing feed costs or labor, Kaspari described how using pasture could help. Considerations for a farmer included: creating a development timeline; making a farmstead grazing plan; thinking about the goals of the operation; looking at soil types and their pH; taking into account sensitive areas (such as surface water, steep slopes, shallow water tables, drainages); forage species; what type of fencing system; a livestock watering system; and so forth. Multi-species grazing affects pasture growth: sheep prefer forbs (weeds), goats prefer browse but will graze, and cows and horses especially prefer grass. Your animals will need different amounts of acreage depending on the kind of creature: 2.5-3 acres for a cow or horse without supplemental feed, .5 acre for a sheep, less for a goat.
Cool season grasses that do well include Kentucky bluegrass, creeping red fescue; smooth bromegrass, and timothy. Legumes are pH sensitive and have hardiness limitations. Yellow-flowered alfalfa and birdfoot trefoil need inoculum; bird vetch is invasive and hardy, but doesn't have much regrowth under grazing. Certain plants will show up on pasture that can be bad for livestock—especially if the pasture isn't properly managed—such as the death camas, a poisonous plant that will appear if the pasture is overgrazed. Others include: water hemlock, wild iris, larkspur/wild delphinium, common groundsel, European bird cherry/chokecherry, and lupine. Foxtail barley is palatable in early stage, but absolutely programmed to grow a seed head, and then not palatable to your animals.
For sustainable grazing, a good rule is that if you can see the animals' hooves, the forage is cropped too low and being overgrazed. Think "take half, leave half" for sustainable grazing. Basic methods include continuous grazing, simple rotational grazing, and intensive rotational grazing. Continuous grazing eventually wears out the plants and reduces the root growth of your forage. It's better to distribute the manure and rotate the grazing. Farmers can grow oats on the homestead corner to supply winter feed, using the manure buildup from the winter as fertilizer.
Farming equipment that may be needed for pasturage: brush mower, small brass seeder, manure spreader, fertilizer spreader, a pasture harrow to spread manure to reduce parasite loads, a sickle bar mower, and a dump rake. Contact Phil Kaspari for more information on details of rotation, equipment, costs, and so on.