Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Murkowski introduces Alaska specific farm bill

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced an Arctic specific farming bill to address issues of food security, conservation and trade in Alaska.

The Food Security, Housing and Sanitation Improvements in Rural, Remote and Frontier Areas Act of 2018 includes a series of Alaska and Arctic-specific initiatives compiled based on the input of farmers and stakeholders across Alaska, Murkowski said.  

This bill is meant to accompany the nation’s farm bill, which is updated every five years, the senator said, covering everything from agriculture to water projects. 

Murkowski said she hopes this bill will help meet Alaska’s rural and urban food challenges; increase the quality and quantity of state-grown produce; and help communities as well as individuals respond to Arctic challenges, including the challenges presented by climate change.

“It highlights our need for greater access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation and housing,” Murkowski said. “It recognizes that, in addition to the rich soil tilled for carrots, barley and peonies, in Alaska our waters are often our farms.”

The bill makes special note of the conservation measures needed to sustain Alaska’s natural fisheries.

“I am also proud that my legislation recognizes fishermen as ranchers of the sea and requires the FDA to mandate labeling of genetically engineered salmon or ‘Frankenfish,’ which protects our wild salmon and ensures consumers know what they’re feeding their families,” Murkowski said. 

Provisions address priorities such as increasing food security; maintaining conservation efforts; expanding opportunities for trade; improving rural development; and bolstering research initiatives. 

With regard to food security, the bill authorizes micro-grants “to increase the quantity and quality of locally grown food in food insecure communities, including through small-scale gardening, herding and livestock operations, the bill authorizes grants up to $5,000 to individuals and grants up to $10,000 to tribes, religious organizations, food banks and other nonprofits and federally funded educational facilities, and local governments in Alaska, Hawaii, and insular areas,” as well as grants for food distribution programs and the serving traditional foods in public facilities. 

The bill authorizes market access programs and increases funding authorization from $90 million to $200 million to support efforts to build, maintain and expand overseas markets for U.S. food and agricultural products, an effort that has also gained the focus of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker who recently led a trade mission trip to China with a specific focus on seafood trade.

The bill also directs USDA rural broadband service programs to award funds to projects that use satellite technology, which is used across Alaska. Murkowski said that satellite broadband is a cost-effective and viable service to connect areas that are not served by broadband cables and likely won’t be soon. The expansion of broadband in Alaska has also gained the attention of Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks. 

Murkowski said the legislation has a special section directed toward research, encouraging the USDA to provide direct, place-based assistance to land grant universities and state agricultural agencies in states that do not have Agricultural Research Service facilities to address the research priorities such as invasive plants and insects. The bill also aims to increase food security and economic opportunities by assisting development of specialty and horticultural crops. 

“All in all, this bill addresses many of the unique challenges in Alaska and will help ensure Alaskan families are strong, healthy and never hungry,” Murkowski said. 

By:  Erin Granger
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner