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Room to grow

Agriculture community looks for land

Posted: April 17, 2013 - 9:29pm  |  Updated: April 18, 2013 - 11:36am
Clarion file photoGerry Tullos walks through windrows of freshly cut hay September 5, 2008 at Tullos Funny Farm near the end of Funny River Road.
Clarion file photoGerry Tullos walks through windrows of freshly cut hay September 5, 2008 at Tullos Funny Farm near the end of Funny River Road.

Kenai Peninsula residents want more agricultural use out of their public lands, according to a recent Kenai Peninsula Borough land use survey.

Of the 1,172 surveys the borough received, 158 residents responded that they wanted public lands to be allocated for agriculture uses, said Marcus Mueller, borough land management officer.

“It’s very significant,” Mueller said.

Mueller spoke at Saturday’s Kenai Peninsula Ag Forum about what the survey’s findings could mean for the Peninsula’s farming community. At the forum, hosted by the Kenai Peninsula Resource Conservation & Development District, farmers, city officials and state agencies looked at methods to foster greater agriculture development and how to market farm produce on the Peninsula.

“I think if we had more agriculture land, that would be great,” said Michelle Lavigueur, manager of O’Brien Gardens & Trees.

Lavigueur said more agriculture land would benefit everyone. It would generate more locally produced food for an area that relies heavily on outside avenues, she said.

Also, it encourages a healthy lifestyle, she said. “I enjoy farming and I know it’s a good down to hearth thing to do,” she said.

As the borough finalizes its land grants through its municipal entitlement program, Mueller said it will need to form a comprehensive plan to address how it will divide the land’s uses. Currently, the borough does not have such a plan, he said.

The program entitles the borough to 10 percent of the state lands, or 155,780 acres, within the borough’s boundaries, he said. But the state grants the land in stages. The borough is in its 40th year in the program and has a final 27,000 acres to receive, he said.

“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” he said. “We get the land first and then figure out what we do with it.”

The borough is currently speaking with the public and state agencies as how best to allot the lands, he said. The borough assembly will take action on a proposal addressing the issue in July, he said. It will also update its Comprehensive Plan in 2015.

At the forum, Mueller gave some recommendations to help the agriculture community voice its message.

He said it is critical that the community explain why agriculture is important to the Peninsula.

Also, he said, the goal of public policy is to achieve goals, so “refine those goals to their least common denominator.” For example, he said, if a community wants chickens within city limits, they could remove roosters from the request for a more effective message.

Now, he said, is a good time for the agriculture community to advocate for their slice of public lands.

“People relate to them, people rely on these lands and people have a lot to say,” he said.

But there is a challenge, he said: the majority of land in the borough is not available to the borough.

About 65 percent, or about 6.8 million acres, of borough land is federal land, and another about 21 percent, or about 2.2 million acres, is state land, according to the borough’s comprehensive plan. The borough cannot regulate the use or management of those lands, according to the plan.

The majority of the remaining land is privately owned, according to the plan. That is where the borough and its residents can find leeway, Mueller said.

For example, he said, there is a “considerable amount” of vacant private lands. He said neighbors can make agreements with the owners of those lands to lay down a field or plant crops, for instance. Private land owners can also lease the land to those seeking farm land, he said.

A stipulation, however, is that Peninsula farmers may need to redefine “farming,” he said.

In the 1950s and 1960s homesteading era, when large lots were common, growing hay or raising cattle on 160-acre lots was possible, he said.

“Now we’re seeing vegetable growing and things like peonies,” he said. Small-acreage farming is a more likely definition for most Peninsula farming, he said.

Dandelion Acres Co-owner Steve Albers said there is a market for more produce on the Peninsula, but currently there are not the grounds to boost production.

But “I do think that there’s the potential,” Albers said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t necessarily have the means to acquire property.”

Dan Schwartz can be reached at

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Norseman 04/18/13 - 10:17 pm
For example, he said, there

For example, he said, there is a “considerable amount” of vacant private lands. ...................................

There is a lot of private ground for sale if someone wants to start farming. So if the borough designates ag land, how does it get sold? Highest bidder? Who has the biggest plow? Who has a relative involved?

Also, just a little over 10% suggested ag lands in the survey. What does the other 90% want to do with the borough?

Personally I think if a person wishes to start a private enterprise, then they should look for private land and buy it. That is what everyone else has had to do.

Let free enterprise work.

Allen 04/19/13 - 05:37 pm
Not True

I disagree with Norseman that everyone else had to buy private land. The Borough and the Central Peninsula cities have sold lots and lots of their lands to businesses. Walmart and Lowe's in Kenai both bought city land. Many of the businesses along the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway were originally city or Borough lands that one of the cities or the Borough sold to the business owners or commercial land developers.

Norseman 04/19/13 - 08:29 pm
Allen my point is it sounds

Allen my point is it sounds like they want to get the land at some kind of discounted price. Granted, the companies you mentioned bought either city or borough land and probably paid at least the appraised value.

I think if land is made available for ag use, you will have people bidding on these properties as speculators or will just meet the minimum requirements and then sell it off.

Plenty of private ground for sale if anyone wants to start farming.

jlmh 04/19/13 - 10:14 pm
Land Use

I think what they mean is that they want the land designated for agricultural use. It would still be sold off as parcels, but it limits what the buyer can do with that land. The agricultural designation would be reflected in the prices. It would prevent a developer from coming in, outbidding everyone, and using the property to start a housing development. Obviously you can get more return for your investment on a housing development, or a business center, or an industrial plant than you can from farming. So a person with those ambitions would be able to pay more for the land, pricing farmers out of the market.

But there is more to the economic equation than how much total revenue can come out of the land sale, or even property taxes thereafter. If the community can save money on groceries, improve their health, and reduce their economic dependence on imports, then that is a quantifiable benefit to the community also, so in the long run it might be the most economical way to use the land. Or it might just be what people want.

Jim Taylor
Jim Taylor 04/24/13 - 08:46 am
lease it

When you take a big picture look at the Kenai Peninsula the majority owners, or rather managers of the land, are the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Chugach National Forest...which is a very good thing in my opinion. Keeping these lands wild and relatively untrammelled by man ensures the essence of the Kenai Peninsula that is so endearing to all of us. Said another way, we don't want to pave all of paradise. That leaves us the privately owned properties and borough owned properties to consider. Within just a lifetime the sliver of private lands that reside in the highway corridors and surrounding present day communities derived from homesteaders of the late 1940's and 1950's has been continually chopped up into smaller and smaller pieces and the price of those pieces has gone up dramatically. When I look at the boroughs parcel viewer it is shocking how few large pieces of private property there are left. Fast forward in your thinking to another lifetime...lets say 50 years from now. That 27,000 acres of soon to be acquired state ownership to borough property may eventually be needed for population growth. So I'm thinking if we decide to turn some of that borough property into agricultural use the wise decision would be to lease the land and not pass title to private owners. We will need the property for homes, businesses and schools in the future.

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