Alaska Agriculture

Alaska Agriculture Day is on First Tuesday in May each year

The agricultural sector of Alaska contributes only a little towards the State’s economy. This is mainly due to the northern climate and steep terrain. The agricultural practices of Alaska aimed only at consumption for the people within the State. The agricultural products of Alaska were not sufficient for Alaska’s population. In the 1940s, farm products worth 1,000,000 dollars were imported per year. Alaska has been producing only one sixth of the food it needs and the rest has been imported from elsewhere. The agriculture of the state was clustered in an area of about 880,000 acres situated in the northeast of Alaska. There are about 500 farms situated in this area. Alaska’s agriculture included two main practices. They are:

  • Livestock raising
  •  Crop production

Livestock Raising

The livestock raising was very prominent in Alaska. There was a strong domestic demand for animal products among the Alaskans. As the environmental conditions of Alaska were very much favorable for livestock raising it became very important part of North American Economy. Many valuable products like milk, egg, beef cattle were produced through the live stock raising. The animals were also raised for obtaining many industrial raw materials apart from its use as a means of food product. The industrial use contributed a lot towards Alaska’s economy. Even though Alaska is a large state with a total area of 365 million acres only a small portion, that is, fewer than one million acres are used for farming. People involved in livestock raising relied on the sale of sheep, cattle, pigs, reindeer, yak, elk, milk, wool, antlers, velvet and bison.  Livestock raising also included fur farming. In 1880s the Russians had placed blue and silver fox on several Aleutian islands. The Americans further expanded fox farming to islands near Kodak. Fox were farmed for their fur.

There are about 318 different varieties of soil in Alaska. Around 15 million acres of soil in Alaska are suitable for farming. Even though vast areas suitable for agriculture were available, the state produced only small portion of food. Farming was concentrated mostly in two area one is the Matanuska valley which is situated 64km northeast of Anchorage and the other is Kenai Peninsula which is situated about 97km southwest of Anchorage. The crop growing period lasts only for about 100 days and this limits the crops to be grown. The most important crops grown in Alaska are cabbage, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, hay and barley. The population size started increasing in a high rate from 1939, the federal government in 1946 had put much effort in making the state self sufficient in its food supply.

The Alaska Grown Logo

The Alaska Grown Logo was introduced by the agriculture industry of Alaska to highlight the products grown there. The logo portrays the image of a farmer, his horse and three shocks of wheat. It was created to increase awareness about products grown in Alaska among the consumers and consumption of products grown in Alaska. The logo was used on all local products of Alaska including milk, egg, meat, vegetables, nursery products, honey, fur, wool products etc. The division of agriculture, which comes under Alaska Department of Natural Resources, has logos with art work images available for producers, wholesalers and the retailers.

The Alaska Agricultural And Forestry Experiment Station (AFES)

In 1898, the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (AFES) was established. The site of first agricultural experiment farm was located in the Alaska territory. At present the station is under the administration of University of Alaska Fairbanks. The most important programs included under this are the Matanuska Experiment Farm, the Reindeer Research program, The Georgeson Botanical Garden, the Fairbanks Experiment Farm and the Palmer Research and Extension Center.

The research programs at Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station aimed mainly at introducing vegetable cultivars appropriate to Alaska and also in selecting and maintaining race or variety of plants especially grains, grasses, potatoes, straw berries, rasp berries etc. adapted to Alaska’s environmental condition. Researches were also carried out on animal and poultry management. The studies were carried out on animals like dairy cows, sheep, pigs, cattle and yak. Researches were also carried out in the animal husbandry of reindeers and muskoxen at AFES. Apart from plants and animals, the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station also concentrates on the researches on climatic changes, forest ecology, soils, biomass and energy etc.

Some of the most important plant varieties developed by AFES are: Sunshine hulless barley, Wooding barley, Datal barley, Thual barley, Trapmar barley, otal barley, Lidal barley, Weal barley, Finnaska a high-protein barley, midnight sun-flower, Kenai polar grass, Nugget Kentucky bluegrass, Nortran tufted hairgrass, Polar bromegrass, Alyeska polargrass, Sourdough bluejoint reedgrass, Norcoast Bering hairgrass, Tundra glaucus bluegrass, Alasclear potato, highlat russet potato,Alaska red potato, Alaska Frostless potato, Alaska 114 potato,  Alaska russet potato, Knik potato, Stately potato, Denali potato, Early Tanana tomato, Susitna and Matared strawberries, Squentna strawberry, Toklat strawberry, Pioneer strawberry, Sitka hybrid strawberry, Kiska rasp berry, Yukon Chief corn, Vidal wheat, Gasser wheat, Nogal wheat, Ingal wheat, Denali alfa alfa, Ceal oats, Toral oats, Alaska 6467 and 6469cabbage, Arctared red fescue and Alaska land red clover.

Region-Specific Variety Development

  • 2009. Sunshine hulless barley
  • 2008. Midnight Sun-flower (unofficial release)
  • 2006. Wooding barley
  • 2001. Finnaska, a short-stemmed, high-protein barley
  • 1987. Kenai polargrass
  • 1986. Nortran tufted hairgrass
  • 1983. Alasclear potato
  • 1981. Datal barley; Otal barley;
  • 1980. Sourdough bluejoint reedgrass
  • 1979. Denali potato
  • 1977. Alaska red potato
  • 1976. Tundra glaucus bluegrass
  • 1974. Yukon Chief corn
  • 1972. Denali alfalfa; Lidal barley; Weal barley; Ceal oats; Toral oats
  • 1970. Alaska 6467 & 6469 cabbages
  • 1969. Susitna and Matared strawberries
  • 1968. Pioneer strawberry
  • 1965. Nugget Kentucky bluegrass, Polar bromegrass
  • 1964. Arctared red fescue
  • 1963. Alaska russet potato
  • 1961. Stately potato
  • 1959. Alaska 114 potato
  • 1953. Gasser wheat, Alaskaland red clover, Knik potato
  • 1920. Trapmar barley
  • 1905. Sitka hybrid strawberry

Top Commodities, Exports, and Counties

Top 5 Agriculture Commodities, 2006
  Value of Receipts
Thousand $
Percent of State Total
Farm Receipts
Percent of US Value
1. Greenhouse/nursery 14,730 22.9 0.1
2. Hay 3,250 5.1 0.1
3. Cattle and calves 2,589 4.0 0.0
4. Potatoes 2,450 3.8 0.1
5. Dairy products 1,869 2.9 0.0
All commodities 64,218   0.0

 

Top 5 Agriculture Exports, Estimates, FY 2006
  Rank Among States Value Million $
1. Other 48 3.2
2. Live animals and meat 50 0.1
3. Feed grains and products 44 0.1
4. Dairy products 49 0.1
5. Seeds 50 0.1
Overall rank 50 3.5

Alaska Travel Guide