- Vegetables: potatoes
- Crop Production: postharvest treatment, equipment appropriate for micro farms
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, new enterprise development
Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula is the fastest growing agricultural area in the state. According to the
Census of Agriculture, the number of Kenai Peninsula farms increased 30% from 2007 to 2012
(compared to 11% statewide) and the number of farms selling direct to consumers increased
111% (compared to 62% statewide). The vast majority of these farms have under 5 acres in
Kenai Soil & Water commissioned a study of local market farm potential, which was completed
in early 2017 (Heuer, Melissa: Central Peninsula Agricultural Market Analysis, 2017). Farmers
who participated in the study indicated that limited volume was the primary challenge to selling
produce locally. Improvements in the distribution system, including centralized distribution, a
marketing representative, and increased coordination with potential buyers were among the
proposed solutions to the limited distribution of Kenai produced farm products. The Kenai’s
farmers are generally very optimistic about the potential for growth, if production and marketing
limitations imposed by their small size can be overcome.
The question to be researched is, “Will more efficient production using appropriately-sized
technology, along with cooperative marketing, significantly increase production and market
penetration of locally-grown root crops on the Kenai Peninsula?” At present, most farmers are
harvesting by hand with potato forks, then collecting and washing the potatoes by hand. The
heart of the project is to test appropriately-scaled equipment (single-row harvester and tubwasher)
on five small-scale farms producing root crops, to assist producers in designing a
cooperative marketing plan and to evaluate and advertise the results of both interventions.
The Kenai SWCD is well-positioned to carry out the proposed project. The mission of the Kenai
SWCD is to nurture sustainable agriculture on the Kenai Peninsula. The District encompasses
296,000 acres with a population of approximately 20,000, but this project will benefit dozens of
agricultural producers throughout the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which has a population of
57,000. In our Sustainable Agriculture program, we work with public and private partners to
identify and conserve agricultural lands, increase local knowledge and use of sustainable
agricultural practices (e.g., composting, cover cropping, riparian buffers), provide education and
equipment for small-acreage market farms and high tunnel growers, and cultivate consumer
support for an integrated local food system.
Project objectives from proposal:
1. To trial appropriately-scaled equipment (single-row harvester and tub-washer) on
five small-scale farms producing root crops.
2 .To quantify the environmental, economic and social (labor and quality of life)
impacts of adopting new methods and equipment for harvesting and post-harvest
handling of root crops.
3. To assist participating producers in designing a cooperative marketing plan and
evaluating the results.