Governor's proposed budget could eliminate Alaska's commercial dairies
Gov. Mike Dunleavy has once again proposed eliminating the state’s commercial dairy program. Like last year, Dunleavy plans to cut $180,000, which includes funds for a dairy inspector.
Legislators restored funding last year and the governor chose not to veto that item. Havemeister Dairy's creamery manager, Ty Havemeister, said this year's proposed cut would put his farm out of business.
“It’s round two,” he said.
Dairies have to be inspected by the state and are not allowed to hire their own inspector. The Havemeister farm doesn’t receive any state funding; the money is used to pay an inspector to check on his farm and products four times a year.
Havemeister, a third-generation farmer, said shutting down would have a trickle-down effect on other business. The farm buys grain from Alaska Mill and Feed and their blow molds for the milk jugs are made in Palmer.
His family has been in the dairy business since 1935. They’ve outlasted all of Alaska’s other dairies and invested in their own creamery to keep local milk in stores.
“There’s not a whole lot of products that are being produced year-round as far as agriculture is concerned,” Havemeister said. “Any small about of food security we can get in the State of Alaska we should try and fight to keep it.”
It’s not just the Palmer cow dairy that would be impacted.
Heritage Farm and Ranch in Kodiak started a small goat farm earlier this year. They produced their first batches of goat milk ice cream and cheese this summer.
Farm manager Kelli Foreman said the dairy started as an educational opportunity to get children connected with their food. Now the dairy has about 40 goats and milks about a dozen of them. Foreman said they serve about 20 flavors of ice cream.
The dairy wants to double its operation and expand into the sale of fluid milk but Foreman is hesitant with the governor’s looming budget cut.
“I was reluctant to buy bottles and bring them here and spend all that money and not be able to use them,” Foreman said. "I don't appreciate the uncertainty."
She said the goat dairy also provides a small piece of food security for the island. She said that’s especially important in a place where cargo boats and planes may get delayed.
“Our shelves get bare very quickly here,” Foreman said.
The dairy doesn’t produce enough milk for the entire town’s population, but in an emergency Foreman said their goat milk could help feed babies who usually rely on formula.
She’d like to see the state support growing Alaska’s agriculture industries.
“It’s not just good for the food aspect. It’s good for the people,” Foreman said.
In the budget proposal, Dunleavy said “eliminating the dairy program will not increase risk to public health as unregulated milk will not enter the market.”
He goes on to advise that “raw, local milk will still be able to be purchased through a cow-share program.”
Havemeister said that’s not a realistic option for his farm. He said they sell about 5,000 gallons a week and rely on large stores to reach the high volume of customers.
“We’re not going to be able to survive,” Havemeister said.
He’s counting on lawmakers to fight for the dairy industry again when session begins in January.
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