• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 44s

Harvesting Alaska: Plant Materials Center provides seeds to grow local agriculture

By Lauren Maxwell 10:30 AM April 3, 2017

Many Alaskans are interested in eating local, but eating local isn’t just about the food we put on the table. It’s also the seed that food is grown from. In Alaska, there is just one certified seed laboratory in the state — the Plant Materials Center in Palmer run by the Division of Agriculture.

The center is hardly a tourist destination, but much of the work that goes on there is fascinating.

Director Rob Carter said the center is home to more than 180 varieties of potatoes. But if you’re looking for the familiar spuds you buy in the grocery store, you’ll have trouble finding them here. That’s because the center stores it’s potato plants in test-tubes.

“We maintain all our 281 varieties of potatoes in vitro, which is in a test-tube,” said Carter. “It’s clonal propagation, they are maintained in a medium that is very much similar to tapioca pudding with all the nutrients a plant would need to survive.”

Carter said farmers and seed growers can order potato starts from the center, in fact they have to.

Under Alaska law, commercial potato growers can only use the same seed stock for a period of eight years before it’s considered a risk for disease. Carter said cloning the starts is one way to assure they remain disease free. But there’s another plus — storing the plant material indefinitely is a form of food security.

“This is Alaska’s seed bank and so if ever there was a failure in the Outside, and we couldn’t access a potato, we could always start here,” said Carter.

The center stores native seeds including grains and grasses, flowers, trees and, of course, potatoes. It helps provide seed for restoration and landscaping projects around the state.

Another major part of the workload is cleaning seeds and grain.

Machines at the center sift through grass seeds grown in-state, making sure no invasive species have hitched onto the mix. They also pour through grain. This is where farmers bring their wheat, barley and rye to be cleaned so that it can be made into flour, brewed into local beer, or distilled into spirits. Carter said they are cleaning twice as much grain as last year, as well as selling more potato starts.

“It’s because we have new growers, younger growers, who are getting into agricultural production in Alaska,” said Carter. “The best part about agricultural production in Alaska, and the industry, is that it has the potential to do so much more.”

Carter said an interest in eating local is helping spur the growth and having access to local seeds is an essential part. He said Alaskans are reaping the benefit.

“I think it should be exciting for every Alaskan that they are going to have access to healthier, fresher, closer food,” said Carter.

The Alaskan Plant Materials Center is helping the state’s agricultural industry to grow.

KTVA 11’s Lauren Maxwell can be reached via email or on Twitter

Harvesting Alaska is a featured series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land — from growing and foraging to fishing and crafting.

Latest Stories

  • News

    People Mover holding public meetings to discuss new bus system

    by Daniella Rivera on Jul 23, 18:06

    Changes to People Mover’s bus route system won’t go into effect until October, but public meetings are happening this week to get riders on board with the transit overhaul. The system will go from having 15 routes to 13 shorter, more direct routes with buses arriving more frequently, route numbers and colors will change, and […]

  • American student arrested in China has been freed, senator says

    by CBS News/Associated Press on Jul 23, 17:27

    BILLINGS, Mont. — Chinese authorities have dropped charges against an American college student who was arrested and detained in the Asian nation a week ago after reportedly injuring a taxi driver who was roughing up his mother in a fare dispute, a U.S. lawmaker said Sunday. Guthrie McLean, a University of Montana senior, was released […]

  • $53M to go to U.S. national park maintenance, infrastructure

    by Associated Press on Jul 23, 17:02

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced more than $50 million for maintenance and infrastructure work at national parks. Zinke made the announcement Saturday at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. With him was Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. The funding would go to 42 parks in 29 states. The Interior Department says in a release […]

  • Politics

    Initiative to regulate bathrooms likely to appear on ballot

    by Associated Press on Jul 23, 16:45

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A new rule on sex, gender, and bathrooms looks likely to go before Anchorage voters next spring. Alaska Public Media reports a release by the Alaska Family Action Council states supporters submitted nearly 8,500 signatures Thursday to the municipal Clerk’s Office, backing a measure that seeks to regulate bathrooms, locker rooms […]

  • Politics

    Trump tweets frustration with Republicans

    by Associated Press on Jul 23, 16:36

    WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump is expressing his frustration with Republicans, saying they “do very little to protect their President.” In a tweet Sunday, Trump says this happens even with “some that were carried over the line on my back.” The president isn’t making clear exactly why he’s upset. But his tweet comes as […]

  • Dramatic video shows Starbucks customer fighting off armed robber

    by CBS News on Jul 23, 16:26

    FRESNO, Calif. — Police in Fresno, California, have released dramatic surveillance footage showing a customer stepping in to prevent an armed robbery at a Starbucks. Authorities said the video shows a hero taking down a man who will soon face many felony charges, CBS affiliate KGPE-TV in Fresno reports. Cregg Jerri, 58, was enjoying his […]

  • Parents arrested for giving newborn daughter meth, heroin, morphine, police say

    by CBS News on Jul 23, 16:03

    SPANISH FORK, Utah — Police said a mother and father were arrested after they gave their newborn daughter drugs on the day she was born, CBS affiliate KUTV in Salt Lake City reports. Colby Glen Wilde, 29, and 26-year-old Lacey Dawn Christenson face drug distribution and child endangerment charges, authorities said. “They administered the drug […]

  • Lifestyle

    John Heard, ‘Home Alone’ actor, dies at 71

    by CBS News on Jul 23, 12:01

    John Heard, the actor best known for his roles in “Home Alone” and “The Sopranos,” has died, the Santa Clara Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed to CBS News. He was 71. Early reports from TMZ said Heard was found dead in his hotel room in Palo Alto, California. Earlier this week, representatives for Heard told TMZ the […]