Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto cutting funding to agricultural development has alarmed advocates for sustainable farms working toward food security. The veto would cut $1.2 million from the state’s Department of Natural Resources in addition to defunding a loan program for farmers.
Robbi Mixon is the local foods director for Cook Inletkeeper in Homer. She said the governor’s veto will deprive Alaska farmers of crucial know-how and advice from the state’s agriculture division.
“They're able to educate them,” she said. “They're able to just give them a lift up. And farmers know that they have people that are supporting them and there are resources and they don't have to do all the work. They can focus on farming.”
That assistance could be with marketing local produce, researching seed banks or cutting-edge technologies. She said its worked: the number of farms in Alaska has risen 30 percent in the last five years, even as the number of farms decreases nationally.
Cook Inletkeeper has been able to create a network of farmer market managers and farmers as well as hold conferences using state funding assistance.
“That money is invaluable,” she said. “Most of the people working in the agriculture industry probably couldn't afford to do this. To have that peer-to-peer information exchange, and also feel like you're not in this alone. We share the same problems and how can we face them together.”
Kyra Wagner is the district manager for the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District, which directs local natural resource programs. She notes that while it is unclear exactly how the cuts may play out, she worries about a larger issue: food security.
“If there's an emergency here, we do have three days of food in the state, but when there's an emergency, it's three hours because people panic,” she said. “So having some kind of stability, rely on something that's local, dig into that root celler of potatoes….”
That’s why she said Alaska farmers aren’t the only ones who should be concerned about the cuts.
Wagner also works on combating invasive weeds on the Kenai Peninsula, and she worries that a loss of funding could make programs combating these threats suffer.
“Things like that, that nobody really sees or understands the impact of, can actually have long-range impacts that could cost the state tons of money trying to combat things that are harmful that had been introduced completely innocently,” she said.
The governor also vetoed $375,000 from the industrial hemp program, which would help provide research and support to producers of the crop.
The Legislature faces a Friday deadline to override the governor’s vetoes.