State plans to end dairy inspections, which would put remaining dairy out of business

The Dunleavy administration plans to end state dairy inspections, which are required by federal law for commercial operations.

But don’t worry, the temporary budget director says. A PowerPoint presented to lawmakers Thursday said there is only one dairy in operation and “Eliminating program will not increase risk to public health, as dairies would not be able to sell milk or milk products commercially,” one slide says.

That is about the most insulting way possible to tell a family that generations of work in Alaska counts for nothing.

I think the governor should go to the Havemeister family farm near Palmer and deliver that message in person.

“We’ve been here since 1935. My grandparents were colonists. My dad was hauling milk jugs down to Palmer years ago,” said dairy farmer Ty Havemeister.

The plan to end inspections took the family by surprise. “Nobody asked us about it. Nobody said anything.”

His dad, Bob Havemeister, is 78 years old and goes to work every day, as do many others.

The Havemeisters have 160 cattle and milk 90 of them. Ty Havemeister said that four families make a living off the farm and they are occupied every day of the year from about 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.

He said the family-owned business has survived thanks to loyal customers in Southcentral who value a fresh local product, which is often on the shelves within 24 hours. That should be worth something to the state.

“I can’t begin to compete with the price of out-of-state milk. It’s all from our 90 cows, it’s 100 percent local,” he said.

The Dunleavy administration needs to rethink this and find a way to continue inspections so that the dairy isn’t forced to shut down. The budget plan says that ending inspections would save about $180,000 a year. and eliminate one job.

But the state does not have a full-time dairy inspector in the Department of Environmental Conservation. Sources tell me that the position comes with other responsibilities and that the situation has been distorted.

During a House Finance Committee meeting Thursday, there were no qualms or questions from lawmakers about this proposal. No legislators seemed bothered that cutting this job would force the dairy to shut down.

Perhaps the absurdity of saying, “There won’t be a health problem because the dairy will be out of business” did not have time to sink in.

Somebody should have said the state could cut one job in the governor’s office and save enough to preserve this private business.

Instead, the budget office says the dairy farm “could not likely bear full-cost of required regulatory program” and outsourcing to another state is not practical.

This plan to end inspections is a dumb move, especially coming from a politician who keeps saying Alaska is open for business.

A 2017 article in The Country Today newspaper took note of the Havemeister Dairy and its potential.

“All the farm’s milk is bottled and sold in gallon jugs as whole, 2 percent and skim, mostly to Three Bears and Fred Meyer stores but also to a few coffee shops and restaurants, which also buy cream in gallon jugs. Skim and whole milk are mixed to make 2 percent.”

Another visiting journalist, this one in 2016, said, the company had a stable market for its milk with great potential for growth.

”Producers of vegetables, beef and now milk are capitalizing on the ‘Alaska Grown’ movement. The future is bright for the Havemeisters. So bright the family would like to transition to a more up-to-date facility for their cows and possibly start a second dairy close to their processing plant,” Greg Booher wrote in an article headlined, “Can a dairy farm survive in Alaska?”

The Dunleavy administration says “No.”

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Dermot Cole16 Comments