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Alaska agriculture: the last 20 years.

1974 - Federal/state agriculture advisors identify 15 million acres of prime potential farmland in Alaska, an area one and a half times larger than state of Iowa.

1978 - 100,000-acre Delta barley project launched; farmers have three years to clear land and plant crops. Bad weather plagues planting efforts. Soon after, barley prices plummet from $145 a ton to $60 a ton.

1981 - First Delta barley crop, expected to be bumper size, provides poor yield; many farmers already having trouble making payments.

1982 - 14,772-acre MacKenzie dairy project launched to establish about 30 farms with milk production slated in three years.

1984 - Matanuska Maid Creamery, intended processor of MacKenzie milk, goes bankrupt. State of Alaska Agriculture Revolving Loan Fund is biggest creditor; takes over management to preserve local and dairy industry job base.

1985 - Debt restructuring for some MacKenzie farmers begins. State drops others, claiming they are too far gone to salvage. Farmers charge state broke promises to provide barley to feed cows, help with infrastructure and market development and pressured them into unrealistic loan repayment schedules.

1987 - Despite troubles, MacKenzie farmers producing 2 million pounds of milk a month, 80 percent of the state's total milk production.

1988 (April) - State agriculture director Mark Weaver publishes column in the Anchorage Daily News charging that Alaskan agriculture has been abused, "starved for capital, abandoned by political leadership, left unnurtured because of regulator failure."

1988 (May) - Weaver "resigns," returns to potato farm.

1988 - Only 4,000 of Delta acres planted in barley; Alaska farmers must import grain to provide cattle feed.

1989 - Only 22,000 acres of Alaska under cultivation.

1989 - Poor hay harvest leaves insufficient reserves to feed Alaska livestock in the following year, prompting premature slaughter.

1989 - Federal government pays Delta farmers $934,000 to not grow barley, $100,000 more than the value of the year's statewide barley harvest.

1990 - Drought plagues Alaska farmers; much Delta barley destroyed by heat, grass-hoppers.

1991 - Of 38 original farmers at Delta, only seven are still farming full-time. "That's a normal failure rate for a pioneer project," Agriculture Director Frank Mielke tells reporter. Gov. Walter Hickel appoints 4-man agricultural task force to negotiate settlements with 40 farmers who have defaulted on loans exceeding $40 million. Farmers charge administration with strong-arm take-it-or-leave-it tactics; some take it, some leave it.

1991 (October) - Agriculture director Frank Mielke resigns.

1992 (November) - John Cramer tapped by Gov. Hickel as agriculture director.
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Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:403
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