Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Graduate seminar focuses on agriculture

For the first time, an Extension agent is coordinating the Natural Resources Management 692 graduate seminar.

Since the School of Natural Resources merged with the Cooperative Extension Service, professors decided to ask Agent Steven Seefeldt to lead the seminar as a measure to further the integration process.
Steve Seefeldt welcomed Carol Lewis as a guest speaker in the spring graduate seminar.

Seefeldt chose agriculture as the theme for spring semester, hoping to expose students to Alaska agriculture through guest speakers. “There are a myriad of road blocks and opinions about where agriculture in Alaska is going and what can be done to expand production and use of Alaska grown products,” Seefeldt said. Another goal is to prepare students for future employment.

Seefeldt gave the first lecture on Jan. 15. An agronomist with the Agricultural Research Service prior to joining Extension, Seefeldt’s focus was weed science but now he works broadly in a range of agricultural topics. Seefeldt is concerned about Alaska’s food security and works to encourage greater local food production. “We have people with the skills. How can we help them become full-time farmers?” he said.

The second session’s speaker was Carol Lewis, professor emeritus and former dean and director of SNRE and AFES.

“Normally you wouldn’t find somebody like me in an ag school,” Lewis said. Before coming to UAF, she was a research physicist at a naval weapons center in Virginia. “My career has been really diverse,” she said.

Lewis shared with the graduate students her philosophy on overcoming obstacles in life. “They are the three C’s,” she said. “Circumstance, challenge and conquer.”

When Lewis entered her field she was told it was a man’s world; over the years she had to overcome many obstacles to achieve her dreams, but she nevertheless maintained her sense of humor. She credited former School of Natural Resources Dean Jim Drew with leading her to a career in agriculture. It began with controlled environment work which she still believes has an incredible role to play in Alaska. She also worked in agricultural development, conservation tillage, agricultural marketing and agriculture history.

She predicted for Alaska agriculture: expansion to rural areas, regionalization and hubs, alternative energy, controlled environments, in-state processing and specialized products. “Potatoes, hay, vegetables and florals will dominate the market,” she said. “People are willing to pay 10 to 15 percent higher for quality products. “We’re not going to compete with Birds Eye but we can compete on a lesser level.”

Agriculture isn’t native to Alaska, Lewis said. “We are hunters and gatherers. Without education and research we won’t have the information.”

Other speakers have been Ann Rippy of the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Brett Nelson of the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The lineup for the next few weeks is:
  • Feb. 12, Pete Mayo of Spinach Creek Farms
  • Feb. 19, Bryce Wrigley of Alaska Flour Co., Wrigley Farms and president of the Alaska Farm Bureau
  • Feb. 26, Professor Milan Shipka
  • March 12, Katie DiCristina of the Georgeson Botanical Garden
The class meets Thursdays from 3:40 p.m. to 5:10 p.m. in Arctic Health Research Building, room 183. Guests are welcome to observe.

For more information, contact ssseefeldt@alaska.edu.

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