For growers in the Kenai Peninsula’s developing agriculture industries, exporting internationally is still an option.
A Division of Agriculture inspector position that issues phytosanitary certifications, or phytos, which are required by some importing countries, has been restored indefinitely, after it was on the table during this years’ budget cut discussions.
“I put it forward because we had to make cuts,” said Division of Agriculture Director Franci Havemeister. “I had to make hard decisions. Everyone was looking at cuts across the board.”
Talk of cutting the position sparked concerns with some local producers who are in the middle of developing or considering supplying to international markets.
Peony growers are one of the most established exporters based on the Kenai Peninsula, said Kenai Peninsula Farm Bureau Executive Director Amy Seitz.
Wayne Floyd, who runs Cool Cache Farms in Kenai with his wife Patti Floyd, is a peony producer out of Kenai and member of the Alaska Peony Growers Association, a statewide cooperative that facilitates a more competitive and viable industry.
In 2014, roughly 150,000 stems were sold, Floyd said. Within five years, millions of Alaska’s peonies may be purchased annually, he said.
That kind of large-scale production takes planning, marketing and knowing what a buyer wants, Floyd said.
Peonies are perennials that take up to three years to develop strong, well-established root systems.
“Some outlive the grower,” Floyd said. “There are some flowers in the Lower 48 that are 100 years old.”
In China, red colored peonies are highly desired for weddings, Floyd said. In the Lower 48, which is where the majority of Alaska’s peonies are shipped at this point, light pinks and whites are preferred at weddings.
For most peony growers, 40 percent of their annual yield is red peonies, because they planned to appeal to an international market, Floyd said.
Other industries such as the Rhodiola, which is still in its infancy, are working toward international viability, Seitz said.
Steve Albers, who runs Dandelion Acres with his wife Linda Albers, has roughly a half-acre of Rhodiola planted, which equates to nearly 500 plants. The flowering plants are actually cultivated for the root and used to combat fatigue.
The Albers’ plants are four years old. Rhodiola, like peonies, take years to establish— up to five years to reach maturity.
Right now, less than one acre is being harvested in the state, said Al Poindexter in a previous Clarion interview. Poindexter owns and runs Anchor Point Greenhouse in Anchor Point, which is one of the largest
operations in Alaska.
Currently, his plants cover four acres, which he will double by the end of the summer.
“Rhodiola hasn’t even touched the international market yet,” Albers said. “It is so miniscule to what it could be.”
The Swedish Herbal Institute contacted the cooperative with an interest in purchasing 5,000 pounds of the processed root, Albers said in a previous Clarion interview. That equates to roughly 25,000 pounds of the raw product, he said.
There has been some talk among the Kenai Peninsula’s potato growers to eventually selling tubers abroad, but that is a long ways off, Seitz said. Alaska’s potatoes are particularly clean, and lack many diseases that are well established in other regions of the world, which may make them favorable to foreign markets, she said.
Alaska’s unsullied spuds are largely a result of the Plant Materials Center’s Potato Program through the Alaska Division of Agriculture, which was also on the table as a potential cut during budget discussions this year. Certified breeders propagate seed potatoes and sell them locally so there is a constant supply of disease-free crops.
The position that was originally cut and then restored equates to $96,200 annually, Havemeister said. Cutting that position would have had a large effect on Alaska’s timber industry, little of which is exported from the Kenai Peninsula, she said.
Phytosanitary certifications through the program have also included seed potatoes that were exported to China, peonies and small quantities of seeds, Havemeister said.
All thee Division of Agriculture inspector positions are cross-trained, so they have the know how to certify different products for export, Havemeister said.
Depending on how stringent the requirements are from the importing county, an inspector may or may not make a visit to the exporting operation to complete the certification process, she said.
During consideration of cutting the position, there was also discussion of putting it on a one time increment, but the timber industry rallied and the decision was made to keep it on full time, Havemeister said.
She could not say if cutting the position may be a possibility again next year, but she does expect she will be asked to make further to division programs.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com