Monday, August 31, 2015

Matanuska Farm weather station to be updated

Standing near the Matanuska Experiment Farm's weather station, from left, Angie Freeman Shephard, Beth Hall and Norm Harris hold a sign thanking the Matanuska Electric Association for its donation.

The weather station at the Matanuska Experiment Farm has collected National Weather Service data since 1917, providing the longest available weather record from a single location in Alaska.

The station will be modernized soon thanks to university grants and a donation from the Matanuska Electric Association. Currently, the weather station records the daily high and low temperatures and precipitation.

Farm Superintendent Angie Freeman Shephard said new system that will be installed this fall will allow the station to collect more information and incrementally.

“We’ll know every hour of the day what the temperature is,” she said.

It will also record new information, such as wind speed and direction, relative humidity, total solar radiation and soil moisture. The data will be uploaded to a website continuously.

Farmers, community members and researchers use the information. Shephard said the new system will make data available to a wider group of researchers studying climate variation, scientists from a variety of disciplines, and K-12 students, who will receive educational opportunities. 

The system should be available at the latest by next spring. The farm received grants of $2,000 from the UAF People’s Endowment and $5,000 from the Matanuska Electric Association’s charitable foundation, plus $6,000 as a UAF Instructional Equipment Award.  Contact Shephard for more information at or 907-746-9481.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

SNRE profiles: Dave Valentine

The SNRE blog will profile faculty and staff from the School of Natural Resources and Extension to make others aware of what their jobs and interests are. Professor  Dave Valentine, the new director of academic programs, is the first in the series.

While earning his doctorate at Duke University, David Valentine studied nutrient cycling in tundra soils, which planted the seeds for his eventual move north.

David Valentine
Valentine joined the University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty in 1996 and, as a professor of forest soils, has taught a variety of classes for the School of Natural Resources and Extension, including Soils and the Environment, Nutrient Cycling and Soil Fertility, Perspectives in Natural Resource Management, Resource Management Issues at High Latitudes, Environmental Decision Making, and Environmental Ethics. He and Professor Peter Fix toured the Interior and Southcentral this May with 19 students participating in the annual NRM 290 field course.

Valentine’s chief research interest now centers around the effects of climate change on soil respiration and carbon balance. He is looking at how the reduced soil moisture affects roots, fungi and other below-ground activity as reflected in soil respiration. To simulate expected climate change, he measures how rapidly soil produces carbon dioxide in plots that have been shielded from moisture.

“We’re drying it now as a proxy for the future,” he said.

Valentine assumed a new role at the school July 1 as the director of academic programs. He will direct and evaluate the school’s academic offerings, work to increase the number of degree-seeking students and institute a better assessment of what students are learning.

“And then we know what aspects of our program work well and which ones we will need to focus on improving in the future,” he said.

With the half-time administrative appointment, he is reducing his teaching load to one class this fall, Environmental Decision Making, and another TBA in the spring.

Valentine has also been active in faculty governance. He served as UAF Faculty Senate president two years ago and as chair of the statewide Faculty Alliance. He has been active in politics having served as a local political party leader.

Other interests include canoeing and biking. He bikes to work year-round and canoed a section of Birch Creek this summer with his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 28.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Invasive species app developed

Alaskans may identify invasive weeds using a free new app.

Gino Graziano of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service worked with the University of Georgia to develop the Alaska Weeds Identification app.

Graziano, an invasive plants instructor, said the app will make it easier for people to identify invasive weeds and to report them if they are unsure about the identification or are concerned about the presence of invasive weeds on their property or public lands. The app provides photographs, descriptions of the plants by type or region and management practices.

People who wish to send a report with an attached photo sign into a University of Georgia database on the app. That  information, which provides GPS coordinates, gets routed to Graziano, who either responds or forwards the report to other pest management experts or public land managers.

Invasive weeds are non-native plants that may cause harm to ecosystems, agriculture and the economy. Graziano said the hope is the citizens will help identify invasive weeds before they get a foothold in a new area. Citizen reports have resulted in the eradication of purple loosestrife in Southcentral and management of giant hawkweed in Kake.

The app may be downloaded from the Apple store for IOS mobile devices, including  iPhones, but an Android version will be available in a few weeks.

The Western Alaska Landscape Conservation Cooperative supported the creation of the app with funding from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For more information, contact Graziano at or 907-786-6315.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Holloway to teach online berries class this fall

Lingonberries are a good source of antioxidants.
Retired horticulturist Pat Holloway will teach a six-week online class this fall, Wild and Cultivated Berries of Alaska.

The one-credit class, NRM 154, starts Sept. 14, and there are no prerequisites. The class will cover how to improve wild berry yields, hardy berries for farm and garden, commercial production, diseases, insects, and traditional and modern uses of berries.

Holloway says she will cover as many berries as she can fit into the six-week class, with an emphasis on the “biggies,” including currants, gooseberries, blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries, honeyberries/haskaps, and raspberries and their relatives. There are also several lesser-known berries she will cover, but no tree fruits. For more information, contact Pat Holloway at

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Alaska Ag Appreciation Day draws big crowd

Alaska Agriculture Appreciation Day at the Matanuska Experiment Farm was a resounding success.

Digging for potatoes proved to be a popular pastime at
Ag Appreciation Day. Steve Brown photos
Coordinator Theresa Isaac estimated that more than 1,500 people attended on Aug. 6, tying a previous record. An ABC Anchorage television station interviewed Isaac and provided a short story about the day’s activities in Palmer.  See the newsclip.

One of the most popular activities involved kids digging for potatoes and harvesting lettuce in garden patches planted for the occasion. Other well-received activities included goat milking and the hayrides, which had long lines. Canine demonstrations from Mat+SAR K9 also drew big crowds. Representatives from the search-and-rescue organization chose someone from the audience to hide and the dog demonstrated searching skills by finding the person.

Many attendees complimented staff on the event, which promoted an appreciation of and knowledge about local foods and agriculture. One attendee called up a day later to say she learned a lot about soils from Bob Van Veldhuizen and intended to start a farm in Bristol Bay. Another person told Isaac it was a great combination of learning and fun.

“That’s exactly what we were striving for,” she said.

A participant at Ag Appreciation Day models a rhubarb leaf.