Alaska barley market booms
By SAM FRIEDMAN
Mar. 10, 2018
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Alaska's barley growers had their most productive year in the last decade in 2017, buoyed by promises that new ownership of a slaughterhouse in Palmer will boost demand for cattle feed.
In Alaska's small agricultural sector, the Matanuska Valley in south central Alaska is the state's vegetable basket. But grains are king in the Delta Junction area, where about a dozen farmers grow barley, a grain used mainly for animal feed, said Bryce Wrigley, a barley farmer and co-owner of Alaska Flour Company in Delta Junction. Wrigley is also president of the Alaska Farm Bureau, an organization that promotes agriculture.
Alaska barley growers planted 5,500 acres of the grain in 2017 and harvested 239,000 bushels — the most in the last decade — according to annual U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics published last month. The total value of Alaska's barley crop has generally ranged between $600,000 and $1.2 million. The production of other crops reported to the USDA, including oats, hay and potatoes, were all down in 2017 compared to the year before, but the inventory of cattle and pigs increased.
Wrigley told the Daily News-Miner that the privatization of the slaughterhouse Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage in Palmer is giving cattle farmers and feed growers across the state more confidence to expand their operations.
The slaughterhouse is the only USDA-certified slaughterhouse in south central Alaska. After years of losing money for the state, the Alaska Board of Agriculture and Conservation voted to sell it to Greg Giannulis of Mike's Quality Meats in Eagle River in December 2016. Giannulis says he wants to expand.
"It's kind of like a vacuum. If you open up an opportunity, then something is going to flow into that," Wrigley said. "Once you have a market, people start raising. Once you have a feed lot, people start making arrangements to finish them there."
Alaska's beef cattle herd grew by 700 head to 5,400 head in 2017, according to the USDA statistics. Also last year, Giannulis imported two loads of cattle from Canada to keep his slaughterhouse busy. It was the first time cattle were imported to Alaska for direct slaughter since 2001, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Since the slaughterhouse changed ownership, Wrigley said initial growth in the beef cattle business has taken place in southcentral Alaska. In the long term, he expects Delta Junction will see the biggest growth in beef cattle production because there is more space to raise cattle in the Interior and fewer people to complain about the smell. Wrigley said he knows of at least three farmers with plans to start raising beef cattle or to pasture cattle owned by Giannulis.
Giannulis at Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage said he also envisions Delta Junction as beef cattle country because of the convenient access to grain. He said the Delta area can support a herd of about 20,000 beef cattle, up sharply from the current population in the Interior of about 1,500 head.
"We pay the bills right now. We're in the black not in the red, but we need to make it (the slaughterhouse) profitable, really profitable, so we need more animals," Giannulis told the Daily News-Miner. "If you dream, dream big."
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com