WASILLA - Valley farmers are on notice: Matanuska Maid will stop buying milk in early December.
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That means local farmers hoping to form a dairy cooperative have about one month to settle details before running out of places to sell their milk. State agriculture officials will meet early Sunday morning about what might be done to help a local dairy cooperative get up and running before the state-run dairy closes in December.
The dairy lost $170,000 in September.
Co-op organizers say they need to know whether they can lease or buy some Matanuska Maid Dairy equipment and the Mat Maid name and logo.
"We can't afford to wait any longer. We need some answers by next Sunday," said Point MacKenzie dairy farmer Wayne Brost, one of the signers to a cooperative group that wants to be up and running in December producing milk and cheese from locally produced dairy products.
Matanuska farmers learned this past weekend they can't sell milk products to the state-run Matanuska Maid Dairy after Dec. 8 or 9, Brost said. The news came after a meeting of the Alaska Board of Agriculture and Conservation.
The state, which is retaining rights to the Mat Maid name, is selling off the dairy's buildings and equipment by the end of the year.
The co-op wants to buy or lease some of Mat Maid's equipment and the name. Brost said he always felt the label misrepresented the contents of the carton when Matanuska Maid mixed milk from Outside with milk produced in Alaska.
Kyle Beus, manager of the fledgling Southcentral Dairyman's Association, addressed the state board Saturday in Palmer about the need for the state to aid farmers, but no resolution was reached. The board agreed to meet again at 8 a.m. Sunday in Palmer on an emergency basis to work toward a solution.
The meeting went well, but there is a lot of work to be done before the local consortium of farmers and processors can start churning out product, Beus said.
"I do believe, basically, everybody involved wants to see this work," Beus said of the new cooperative. "But doggone, it's hard to keep everybody on the same sheet of music."
The dairy co-op wants many things from the state board at a complicated time when it must shut down the existing Mat Maid business and settle the books, Cole said. The requests involved things "most board members felt they needed more time to consider."
The Agriculture and Creamery boards, which consist of the same members, voted separately to keep the Mat Maid name out of the dairy's sale and only sell or lease it to a business or group that will produce 100 percent Alaska-grown products.
The board meeting took place one day after state Senate President Lyda Green of Wasilla asked the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee for a full audit of Mat Maid, detail of its sale transactions and the true value of its assets.
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