Alaska editorial: Mat Maid living on state's borrowed time

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Alaska's dairy industry has a long history of people working hard in the face of major obstacles. Such effort is what's needed now to see if the state-owned Matanuska Maid dairy can be kept operating in a viable manner.

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Why is the dairy's fate a concern for the Interior? It's barley from the Delta Junction area that feeds the Southcentral dairy cows that supply just over a quarter of the milk to the dairy. Without the dairy, those barley growers will lose a big market - and the Delta region will lose an important piece of its economy.

The Mat Maid dairy was scheduled to close Saturday, but a sharp reaction from Gov. Sarah Palin to replace all members of the state Board of Agriculture and Conservation, which oversees the board that runs the dairy, has given the dairy a reprieve. But that's all it gives. It doesn't give the dairy, and the portion of the Interior agriculture industry that indirectly relies on it, a solid future.

Palin, in coming to her decision, had expressed a good deal of frustration with the behavior of the board of the Creamery Corp., the state entity that runs Mat Maid dairy. The creamery board had refused her offer of financial assistance to keep the dairy running and, in her estimation, wasn't seriously discussing ways to keep the dairy running.

But the governor has no direct authority over the creamery board, so, to the applause of the dairy industry, she found another way to get her way. She wiped out the previous lineup of the state agriculture board, which has authority over the creamery board, and put in some new members. Her new appointees then removed the members of the creamery board and put themselves in charge of the dairy. They then overturned the prior creamery board's decision to close the dairy and accepted the governor's $600,000 bailout, which could keep the dairy running for another three months - or less.

That's not a lot of time, however, to explore the options for having the dairy be economically self-supporting. Maybe there isn't a good solution, and maybe, in the end, the dairy will have to close. That's what some people think. And a continuing state subsidy, or repeated bailouts, shouldn't be allowed.

But if the dairy is to close, it must do so only with the confidence that there simply is no other choice.

Until then, the history of hard work in the dairy industry must once again be applied, from the Interior and elsewhere in Alaska.

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