JUNEAU — The state’s largest production dairy is again left with an uncertain future as Gov. Mike Dunleavy left $165,000 for the federally required dairy inspection out of his current budget.
Department of Environmental Conservation staff briefed the House Finance Subcommittee on the DEC on Thursday, reiterating that without the state’s dairy inspection, Havemeister Dairy in Palmer would be unable to legally sell the milk from 150 cows.
“We really are focused on helping farmers grow what I think can be a growing sector of our economy,” said Dunleavy.
Dunleavy met with the Mat-Su Borough Assembly in January prior to the start of the second half of the legislative session in Juneau. While the governor’s budget had already been released without the monies for the state dairy inspection, it was not one of the assembly’s listed priorities.
A member of the public giving comment brought the matter up and Dunleavy spoke extemporaneously on his decision not to include the funds in his budget.
“It’s not my goal to kill the dairy industry,” said Dunleavy.
Dunleavy said his administration is looking at ways to remove barriers and regulations for dairy inspection and noted that while Federally mandated to commercially sell milk, the inspection is not Federally funded. On Thursday, Rep. Grier Hopkins (D-Fairbanks) asked DEC staff if the existing dairies would be able to operate without the inspection.
“So if we eliminate this program and don’t allow any other opportunities for those three dairies to spend $50,000 or $55,000, they’ll all be closed. So this effectively kills the dairy industry in Alaska?” said Hopkins.
DEC Environmental Health Director Christina Carpenter confirmed for Hopkins that dairy would not be able to be sold commercially in Alaska.
Along with the Havemeister dairy in Palmer and a goat dairy in Kodiak, another four farms have applied to the DEC.
“That’s correct they would no longer be able to sell their product commercially,” Carpenter said. “The governor’s budget, like we’ve mentioned, did identify the dairy sanitarian for elimination.”
The $165,000 eliminated in the budget funds the work of 4-6 people, according to Carpenter. While the sanitarian makes visits to do on-site inspections, veterinarian staff also work with the two commercial dairies within the state and laboratory staff must conduct tests to verify the safety of the pasteurization of the milk.
“We’re looking at what are the barriers and the regs that you have in place and the marketing issues that we can address that will actually grow farms in the state of Alaska,” said Dunleavy.
Hopkins was joined by Representative Dan Ortiz (I-Sitka) and Representative Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) in the House Finance Subcommittee meeting to discuss the DEC budget.
“While I understand the need to lower [General Fund] dollars where we can, reduce GF dollars where we can, there’s always an opportunity cost in those kinds of decisions and I guess it’s up to the committee and the legislature overall as to whether or not we think that’s a it’s’ an opportunity cost that we’re willing to pay, to see these dairies close and not remain operational,” said Ortiz.
The Havemeister farm began in 1935 and continues to be run by the Havemeister family.
Ty’s grandfather began the farm and cows are milked every day to provide Havemeister milk all across southcentral Alaska. Representative George Rauscher had submitted a budget amendment that had failed by one vote last April at the end of the legislative session in Juneau before the dairy inspector was saved by budget amendment 32 sponsored by Representative DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer) and Representative Gerann Tarr (D-Anchorage).
The Havemeister Dairy also support other local businesses, buying jugs from True North Plastics and grain from Alaska Mill and Feed.