Alaska task force estimates $67 million need to stave off food shortages

The dependence on outside sources makes the state vulnerable to shortages and food insecurity, according to the task force's report.

Published: August 2, 2023 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

(The Center Square) - The Alaska Food Strategy Task Force said it would take at least $67 million to alleviate the state's dependence on imports for food.

The dependence on outside sources makes the state vulnerable to shortages and food insecurity, according to the task force's report.

For some recommendations, like extending the Alaska Railroad to Fort Greely, the report does not list an estimated cost but says it would need a combination of state and federal funds.

The recommendations in the report released this week cover three priority areas: sustainably growing Alaska’s agriculture industry, growing markets for local products, and improving transportation and infrastructure.

Alaska is one crisis away from a food shortage, said Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Greater Palmer, Knik-Fairview, the task force chair.

“An earthquake, a labor strike at a major port, a pandemic – and we would see our store shelves empty out in short order. Rather than an academic discussion about interesting ideas, the report includes specific, workable strategies that list responsible entities, any required statutory or regulatory changes, proposed timelines and action steps, and metrics to be used to measure progress and success.”

The task force recommended creating an Alaska Department of Agriculture, which would cost more than $20 million, according to the report. It also called for $3 million for forgivable loan programs to improve access to capital for food producers.

Another $43 million is needed to increase research capacity and programs through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension, according to the report.

Other suggested action steps for expanding agriculture included extending leases on state-owned land and encouraging tax exemptions for farmland.

The creation of an Alaska Grown Marketing Institute and re-establishing an Alaska Meat Inspection Service would cost approximately $600,000, according to the report.

The task force also recommended requesting grocery stores to track and sell more Alaska-grown food and expanding the Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund to food processors and manufacturers, among other things.

The task force recommended nine actions to improve transportation and infrastructure. They include working to strengthen maritime and aviation infrastructure, improving bypass mail operations, data collection and analysis, creating a Supply Chain Coordination Council, increasing food storage for Community Food Banks and disaster preparedness, and extending the Northern Rail.

“Alaska’s food security is complex but requires both sound management of wild food systems and robust supply chains that provide high-quality and affordable food to populations across a vast area,” said AFSTF Executive Board Member Michael Johnson. “This task force has identified many actionable and data-driven proposals across three initial focus areas that can support local production, reduce waste, and foster economic growth. We hope these intervention options foster high-level discussion and will be strongly considered as our team begins work on the remaining four focus areas.”

The task force’s next report is due on Aug. 1, 2024.

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