Appropriate Technology and Cooperative Marketing to Increase Root Crop Production on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula

Project Overview

OW18-029
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2018: $21,631.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2020
Grant Recipient: Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Heidi Chay
Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District

Commodities

  • Vegetables: potatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: postharvest treatment, equipment appropriate for micro farms
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, new enterprise development

    Abstract:

    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
    production.
    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:

    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.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.