State agriculture director David Shade has assured Mat-Su farmers that required crop inspections including seed potatoes will be done despite vetoes of parts of the division’s budget by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
“Governor Dunleavy, Commissioner (Corri) Feige and I understand inspections of seed potatoes are to our growers. Alaska’s certified seed potato program is justly renowned, and without certification, you can’t sell your crop. We have designated these inspections as essential, and part of the core mission of the division,” Shade said in a letter sent to farmers and the public Aug. 6.
“While there have been some communication issues which caused some confusion there was no intent for budget vetoes to impede these inspection, I can now assure you that the required inspections of your seed potatoes will be done — and soon — in time for you to get your second in-field inspection completed. Likewise, the post-harvest, in-storage inspections will also be completed at the appropriate time, so you may keep your certification and maintain the value of your crop,” Shade said in the letter.
Meanwhile, the division is still working on problems related to securing needed audits of farmers’ practices of growing of fresh produce. Those are needed to sell the produce to major grocery retailers.
“We are working on this issue, and likewise assure you we will conduct the audits and make sure you and other farmers can meet these industry standards and sell your crops to local retailers,” Shade said in the letter.
What retailers require are Good Handling Practices (GHP) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits, which are done during the growing season.
Shade also said press reports had erroneously said 18 people had lost jobs in the agriculture division due to budget cuts and vetoes. “The truth is that eight vacant positions were cut from the budget and eight employees were laid off when their jobs were also eliminated. While budget reductions have hurt our Ag family, everyone in our business knows we must deal with the challenge of lean years.”
Shade said he and his team at the division are working to retain core programs including seed potato inspections, phytosanitary inspections, fighting invasive plants and pests, administering peony export grants, cleaning and testing of grass seed, and sales of agricultural land.
Having grown up on a family farm in Homer, which he still helps operate, Shade said he understands farmers’ problems.