By LAINE WELCH
August 23, 2010
The so called Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment Program was included in the 2008 Farm Bill to help 'geographically disadvantaged' farmers and ranchers by covering a portion of their transportation costs. The $2.6 million program applies only to Alaska, Hawaii and the US territories.
"The program recognizes that to operate a farming business in Alaska, including shellfish farms, is much more expensive. So it tries to level the playing field a bit," said Danny Consenstein, state director of the Alaska Farm Service Agency, a part of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
"Almost anything that you had to buy to produce your product likely has some kind of transportation component to its cost, and we will pay a percentage of that," he explained.
The reimbursement program will pay 25% of transportation costs based on the federal fiscal year, which in this case covers October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010. The reimbursement program is targeted to smaller, family size operations, Consenstein said, so big corporate farms need not apply. There also is a reimbursement cap of $8,000.
One of the biggest assists from the RTCP program is aimed at high fuel costs.
"Whether you're a barley farmer in Delta or a shellfish farmer at Prince of Wales, fuel is a big part of the cost of doing business. What we ask you for is a dollar amount - how much you paid in fuel to run your business this year," Consenstein said.
The application period is open now through September 10th.
"That's another reason I really encourage people to apply for transportation reimbursements," Consenstein said. "This is the first year for the program, and it would be good to demonstrate to Congress how much interest there is in it."
Contact the Farm Service Agency
in Palmer (907-761-7738) or on the web at www.fsa.usda/ak
Alaska has 67 permitted shellfish farms; of that, 25 are currently operating - 10 in Southeast and 15 in the Southcentral region. Oysters are the primary crop, and to a lesser degree, littleneck clams. The combined market value last year was just under $500,000.
The state has been very supportive of the fledgling mariculture industry, and there are now shellfish hatcheries at Seward and Prince of Wales Island. The Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative in Homer has a big new facility and the Oceans Alaska center in Ketchikan aims to be a global leader in aquatic farming.
"If we look at what the opportunities are for year round, sustainable jobs in Southeast, Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula and along the Aleutians, the shellfish industry is one of the best options we have," said John Sund, project director for Oceans Alaska.
Economists estimate that growing geoduck clams, sea cucumbers, scallops and seaweeds could return up to $100 million, just for Southeast Alaska. An offshoot for any coastal region could be seaweeds, notably kelp - a $2 billion industry in Japan.
The state Dept. of Natural Resources accepts applications for aquatic growing sites every two years. Mariculture director Cynthia Pring-Ham said she doesn't know why there has never been any interest from Western Alaskans, and perhaps there is a lack of awareness about the opportunity. She said CDQ groups could be a funding source to help launch a lucrative aquatic farm industry in remote coastal regions.
The USDA/Farm Service Agency also provides low interest loans for established and new shellfish farmers. FSA loans can be used to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed and supplies. The loans also can be used to construct buildings or make farm improvements.
"We are really looking to support this industry," FSA's Consenstein said, "because we believe there is so much potential in Alaska to create jobs."
Connecting small scale fishing towns is the focus of a new research project that aims to help communities network and learn from each other. The goal is to compile a national resource guide on innovative local fishing projects.
"There are so many wonderfully creative ideas out there, and one of the best ways to do things in your own community is to reach out to others. We want to identify what other people are doing in different places," said Joshua Stoll, project coordinator for the University of California at Berkeley. "I especially want to help identify new marketing strategies, and new ways of doing small scale fisheries in general."
Along with fisheries, the coastal communities' resource guide also will include a section on small scale energy projects.
"It's a way to empower
communities by learning what others are doing," Stoll said.