Workforce Wednesday: Growing Alaska's farms
Alaska may be far from a farm state, but it does lead the country in one area of agriculture.
Our state has the highest percentage of farms in the nation that are run by beginning farmers, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.
"There's a lot of folks engaged for sure. The question is how to make it sustainable," Terry Smith, President-elect of Commonwealth North, told KTVA's Daybreak in a live interview Wednesday as a preview to a larger discussion hosted by the non-partisan organization.
Commonwealth North's members are urging the state to look at policies that can help farmers drive down their costs to better compete with products coming in from long, out-of-state supply chains.
"It's cost prohibitive to buy local, so we have to find ways to bring that cost down," Smith said.
According to census data, the number of farms in Alaska grew by 49 percent in two decades, from 512 farms statewide in 1992, to 762 in 2012.
Still, the state gets 95 percent of its food from outside suppliers, according to 2014 report commissioned by the Alaska Deptartment of Health and Social Services, as well as the Alaska Food Policy Council.
That heavy dependence on imports has the non-partisan group worried about what it calls a potential crisis.
"The numbers that are kicked around are that we've got eight days supply of food on the shelves, so, I leave it up to the community to figure out whether it's important or not. I'd say it is," Smith said.
Commonwealth North has identified three areas for public policy, which Smith said could help create jobs and boost food security. The organization is urging state lawmakers to take steps towards:
• Securing a long-term demand for local products to increase the market predictability for farmers.
• Developing infrastructure to support the farming industry.
• Establishing a framework for the bulk purchase of local foods.
"These are all long lead times, [a] long time to get agricultural turn around and to build industry. So, that's what Commonwealth North is focusing on," Smith said.
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