By Rachel Kenley, Division of Agriculture
Thanks to the efforts of the Delta Farm Bureau, a busload of people enjoyed a tour of farms in the Delta Junction area Thursday, July 19.
For just $50, tourists and Interior residents had the opportunity to see five different farms over the course of the day. Participants loaded onto a tour bus and were entertained during travel by tour guide and Delta Farm Bureau President Mike Paschall.
The first tour stop was Windy Valley Farms. Paschall introduced farmer Bob Walker, noting that unlike most farmers in the area, Walker makes a living on farming without having an additional job. Since the day was wet, Walker explained, his crew were busy fixing and maintaining equipment instead of harvesting hay.
Walker grows hay on 240 acres, but because of a center pivot irrigation system, he said, he’s able to produce as much hay as a farmer without an irrigation system could on 500 acres.
As tour participants weren’t able to see the hay harvested, Walker gave them a tour of the equipment used in his operation, which included a mower, a tedder, a baler and an accumulator. Walker explained that the market (which consists mostly of horse owners) demands small round bales of hay, but that larger round balers can be produced more easily and efficiently.
Taking time off to give a tour is unusual for Walker this time of year, since he’s so busy harvesting. “In July, I work until I fall over,” Walker said.
After departing Walker’s operation, the tour moved to Dennis Green & Sons. A son, Bob Green, met the tour bus and showed us his feed processing facility. Green grows hay, barley and oats on 1,200 acres and processes them into pellets for sale across Alaska. Unlike many pellet producers outside of Alaska, Green adds no binding agent to his grain, using only natural moisture.
When Green bought his mill, “It was an old piece of junk,” he said, “and it’s just a bit above that now.”
Despite having older equipment, Green is able to run the mill two to three times each week and sells everything he produces—80,000 bags per year—without doing any advertising.
The tour proceeded to the Clearwater Lodge, where participants ate a lunch that included Alaska Grown lamb and pork bratwursts. Afterward, the bus was loaded up once more and headed to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experiment Farm.
Meghan Lene, agriculture specialist with the Salcha-Delta Soil and Water Conservation District, explained the purpose of the experiment farm. The farm is used to set recommendations for fertilizer and pesticide use in the area.
One experiment being done currently was designed to answer the question: “Are we getting the full benefit of the fertilizers we’re applying?” Lene said that agricultural lime was applied to soils in the fields to change the pH from 5 to 6.5. The reduction in acidity makes nutrients in the soil more available to crops. After three years of testing, Lene said, they now have usable data and publishable results.
A few weather hardy folks walked a half mile to the experiment plots to see the different varieties of canola, wheat, oats and barley before loading on the bus to continue the tour.
Northern Lights Dairy is run by Don and Lois Lintelman, who have been running a dairy since 1969 and have 50 milk cows.
“I was a city girl,” Lois said, “when I married a wannabe dairy farmer, and now here we are.”
The Lintelmans run one of only two creameries in the state, and produce whole and 2 percent milk and hard and soft ice cream for sale at Safeway in North Pole and Fairbanks.
The tour included the milk processing area, which included a cream separator, pasteurizer, homogenizer, and carton and gallon machines. Then the participants moved into the barn to see the milking cows and the newborn calves. When it was time to leave, everyone got a vanilla ice cream cone for the road.
Jeanine Pinkelman met the tour bus at the Delta Meat and Sausage Company. She noted that having Delta Meat as the last stop of the tour was fitting, since it’s often “the finish line for agriculture.”
The Pinkelmans have run the slaughterhouse for 19 years. They process Alaska Grown beef and pork, and also do cutting and wrapping for hunters. Pinkelman said Delta Meat tries to cut out the middleman by selling everything directly to consumers.
The facility is USDA certified, Pinkelman said, which allows for diversity and flexibility.
Pinkelman stressed that the procedures at the harvesting facility were humane. “Animal processing has to be humane, no matter what, whether you do it here or at home,” she said.
A sampling of sausages and pepperoni sticks was provided, and the Delta Farm Tour was over for another year. For information about next year’s tour, contact Mike Paschall, 907-895-5383.