Local agricultural support sees cuts as done deal

Agriculture support programs on the Kenai Peninsula will soon be feeling the effects of statewide budget cuts.

The Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District is slated to lose thousands of dollars in state funding if the 2016 fiscal year operating budget passes as it stands.

“This is already a done deal,” said district manager Heidi Chay. “The budget for agriculture is not one of the playing cards the Legislature is negotiating over.”

The Kenai conservation district, which approves its own budget, is proposing $8,000 in cuts to its fiscal 2016 operating budget, Chay said. That will mean reductions in workshops, staff training and travel expenses and less paid hours for Chay’s position. However, she said she may be working extra hours unpaid so that the Kenai conservation district can remain involved in its existing programs.

Last year’s budget was nearly $107,000 and next year’s will be nearly $99,000, Chay said.

Alaska’s soil and water conservation districts rely on grant money to accomplish projects beyond basic services, Chay said.

The Kenai conservation district currently has two federal grants, one for $86,000 from the Farmers Market Promotion Program through the United States Department of Agriculture, and a $75,000 grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Schoolyard Habitat projects, Chay said.

Because of these, their assistance in local markets and school programs will not be touched for at least one more year, she said.

Alaska has 12 conservation districts, which are legal subdivisions of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. The conservation districts provide services throughout the state, which vary depending on the needs of the region.

“We’d like to see the state investing in agriculture the way it invests in the resource extraction industries,” Chay said. “After all, everyone needs to eat, and Alaska is at the end of a very long and vulnerable food chain. And the signs of agriculture’s growth potential are all around us.”

A five-member board of supervisors, one full-time district manager (Chay) and a part-time project coordinator run the Kenai conservation district.

Locally, the Kenai conservation district supports the development of sustainable agriculture, farm enterprises and farmers markets and leads Schoolyard Habitat projects at five local schools, Chay said. The Kenai conservation district administers the State’s Weed-Free Forage and Weed-Free Gravel programs, which aim to limit the spread of invasive plants on the Kenai, she said.

The Kenai conservation district also helps support all four central peninsula farmers markets.

Staff train vendors and promote the events with advertisements and the local food directory, Chay said. The Kenai conservation district also manages the “Farmers Fresh Market,” which is the Central Peninsula’s only food-focused event that is going into its third year and opens from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, she said.

The conservation district coordinates with other local entities such as the Central Peninsula Garden Club, Kenai Peninsula Farm Bureau, Kenai Local Food Connection and Cooperative Extension to accomplish its goals, Chay said. The district helps organize and provide funding for annual events such as the Kenai Peninsula Ag Forum.

“The district is extremely frugal, and we have worked hard over the past four years to diversify funding sources so we depend less on the fickle state for operating funds,” said Chay. “These cuts mean that we’ll have to get creative, raise fees for services and spend more time on fundraising. I’ve already cut back on paid hours given the deep cut to state funding in the current year.”

Alaska’s conservation districts receive organizational assistance and funding through the Alaska Association of Conservation Districts non-profit, or AACD.

The entire budget for the association will be cut if the budget passes as is, said Director for the Division of Agriculture Franci Havemeister.

Chay said the cuts to agriculture have effectively already been passed, but the association has reserves to make it through one more fiscal year.

“There is no funding for AACD or districts in any version of the budget being considered,” Chay said.

The Legislature has allocated an average of $600,000 each year to the association through the capital budget, which has averaged out to $40,000 per conservation district per year between 2011 and 2015, Chay said.

It is not written into state statute that the Legislature is required to provide annual funding to the association, Havemeister said.

“(Funding) has come through capital appropriations approved by the Legislature and then passed through (the association) to the districts,” Havemeister said. “Project specific capital money has also been appropriated to individual districts over the years. Allocations have varied dramatically from year to year.”

The Kenai conservation district will also be losing direct funding from the Division of Agriculture, which is a subdivision of the Department of Natural Resources, Havemeister said.

The division will be losing $400,000 which included funding for the Ethnobotany and Farm to School programs as well as four positions effective July 1, 2015, Havemeister said.

Funding for the Natural Resource Conservation and Development Board, or NRCDB, a branch of the Department of Natural Resources, was cut this past session, Havemeister said. This resulted in a $2,500 direct loss to each conservation district, she said.


Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

More in News

Then Now: Looking back on pandemic response

Comparing messaging from 1918 to 2021

Golden-yellow birch trees and spruce frame a view of Aurora Lagoon and Portlock Glacier from a trail in the Cottonwood-Eastland Unit of Kachemak Bay State Park off East End Road on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, near Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong)
State Parks to hold meeting on Eastland Cottonwood unit

Meeting will include update on Tutka Bay Hatchery bill

Rachel and Vernon Scott Miller celebrate the birth of their son Tripp Woodruff Miller, who was born on Sept. 19, 2021. Tripp Miller is the first baby born from IVF treatments in Homer. (Photo provided by Miller family)
‘Just keep going’

Miller family celebrates birth of son by IVF

(Black Press stock photo)
Homer man dies of COVID-19

Homer man’s death announced as part of reporting backlog.

Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire
A Juneau resident receives a flu shot while getting a booster shot for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Centennial Hall on Oct. 2, 2021. More than 1,300 Juneau residents received booster shots at the clinic, and about half of those people also received a flu shot.
Experts urge flu shots ASAP

Jabs keep infections down and free up health care resources

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
The Alaska Capitol is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. There is interest among lawmakers and Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy in settling a dispute over the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend program, but no consensus on what the program should look like going forward.
Alaskans get annual boost of free money from PFD

Checks of $1,114 are expected to be paid to about 643,000 Alaskans, beginning this week.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
This 2011 photo shows the Taku and Malaspina ferries at the Auke Bay Terminal.
Costs add up as ferry idled nearly 2 years

Associated Press The cost to the state for docking an Alaska ferry… Continue reading

The Federal Aviation Administration released an initiative to improve flight safety in Alaska for all aviation on Oct. 14, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
FAA releases Alaska aviation safety initiatives

The recommendations, covering five areas, range from improvements in hardware to data-gathering.

Most Read