Dunleavy budget would ax agriculture development funding
Agriculture development is on the chopping block in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest budget proposal.
In it, the governor proposed to completely cut the Division of Agriculture’s $1.2 million funding, which would eliminate more than a dozen full-time positions and end programs like the farm loan and Alaska Grown marketing as well as the state's veterinarian program.
Richelle Plummer founded the Mat-Su Farm Co-op a few years ago with the goal of getting local eggs into stores. In the past five years, she’s seen the demand increase exponentially.
“Between 30 and 50 percent every year; 2019 was projected to be the best year so far,” Plummer said.
She said people aware of where their food comes from because of programs like Alaska Grown. The Division of Agriculture’s $5 Alaska Grown Challenge also provided a boost for farmers by getting stores to compete for local produce.
“What could be better than that when they’re seeking out farmers to fill their shelves instead of farmers fighting to get into the grocery store,” Plummer said. “There was a lot of work involved and a lot of dedication and passion that unfortunately has changed in the last month.”
The goal of Alaska Farmland Trust is to have more farmers growing more food. Executive director Amy Pettit said currently one-third of the state’s local produce comes from the Valley.
She worries about the long-term impact if farmers don’t have a hand up.
“Farming is already such a difficult industry to be involved with in this state and the small levels of support provided through the Division of Agriculture, if they’re gone, it’s just another reason for people to go farm somewhere else,” Pettit said.
House Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, said Dunleavy has an “open door” when it comes to discussing the proposed cuts. She wants him to make sure he knows what’s at stake if those programs are eliminated.
“Alaska Grown, even the marketing of the agriculture, is a money maker for the Department of Ag. We know we don’t want to cut that while we’re cutting other things. I don’t know if there’s oversight there so we’re going to clarify and make sure it’s brought to the governor’s attention,” Johnson said.
Co-op founder Plummer said she understands cuts need to be made for a balanced budget but questions whether the already small agriculture budget needed to be sacrificed.
“We need to fight to get some of this back,” Plummer said.
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