Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Alaskans work toward sustainable livestock production

Jan Rowell (right) and Deirdre Helfferich of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences compile data at the Sustainable Livestock Conference. A publication reporting on the conference was recently completed.
What began as a chance to gather and talk about livestock issues in Alaska has spurred university researchers to work hand in hand with the state’s producers.

A new UAF publication, Sustainable Livestock Production in Alaska, captures the highlights of a conference held in Anchorage in October 2011. A followup conference was held a year later.

“Those of us at the university were energized by the response we got from people,” Rowell said. “Ours may be a small farm community but the people are full of ideas. It was very positive. Now we just have to find the money to move forward.”

When the original conference was held, the purpose was to focus on the red meat system by inviting livestock producers, processors, regulators, policy makers, animal health care practitioners, food safety professionals and researchers for round table discussions. The conference initiated dialog that defined barriers and sought ways to grow a healthy, sustainable livestock system, focusing on production; processing and distribution; and marketing and retail.

“We wanted to see what the bottlenecks were, what was working and solicit suggestions on how to improve,” said School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences Assistant Professor Jan Rowell, conference coordinator and author of the recent report.

The new report serves as a key element of stakeholder input, she added. The goal is to form a steering committee to help define the advisory role of stakeholders, approaches to solicit regional input, means and frequency of communication between the group and the research team, incorporation of new memberships, membership turnover and future recruitment.

“We identified key people and when the funding settles we’re going to form a stakeholder group,” Rowell said.

When participants at the first conference said grazing practices were a priority for them, a second workshop was held to focus primarily on that. Fiber producers requested an extra day to work on their special concerns. An outcome of that gathering is that Rowell is helping look for possibilities to fund a custom fiber mill.

Another result of the meetings was that SNRAS now has a graduate student studying grazing practices at UAF’s Large Animal Research Station. While muskoxen will be the focus of the student’s research, her work will include basic principles that will apply to any species.

“We have the capacity and the land base to produce enough meat to feed many more Alaskans but we have not done it. Why not?” the report states.

Thanks to the willingness of farmers and others to meet with university researchers the answers and methods should be defined and addressed.

“The Alaska Division of Agriculture has been a great supporter of everything we’ve done,” Rowell said. The conference was supported by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, USDA Award Number 2011-68004-20091.

To obtain a printed version of the report, email Rowell at
Nenana Urban Farms proves livestock can be raised in Alaska. David Poppe is pictured with some of his animals.

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