Plans to dump Mat-Su milk worry officials

Discarded dairy could contaminate lakes, creeks, rivers

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007

ANCHORAGE - State officials are worried about plans by some farmers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to dump most of the 1,600 gallons of milk they produce each day now that Matanuska Maid Dairy is going out of business.

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Farmers want to dispose of the milk on their properties, but officials are discussing alternatives, according to state veterinarian Bob Gerlach. Some officials fear the milk could contaminate lakes, creeks and rivers, he said.

The four dairy farmers who provided nearly all their product to Anchorage-based Mat-anuska Maid will be without a steady buyer for their milk on Sunday. The dairy on Monday made its last pickup.

Alaska's only other dairy, Northern Lights Dairy, which supplies Fairbanks and Delta Junction, picked up milk in the borough on Wednesday and plans another pickup Friday. Farmers said the dairy might not return until Dec. 27 and only sporadically after that.

Point MacKenzie dairy farmer Wayne Brost said he plans to spread the unwanted milk on his fields as fertilizer. As with most dairy farmers, Brost's storage tanks are full after two days.

Merlene Baskin, another Point MacKenzie farmer, said she is thinking of pouring her milk into a manure pit on her property.

"I don't know what else to do with it," she said.

The milk fat and proteins, which contain nitrates, in high enough concentrations could deplete water of oxygen, killing fish and plants, according to Gerlach. At this point the state is only discussing possible alternatives and has not talked to farmers, he said.

Sharmon Stambaugh, manager of the state wastewater discharge program, said the state was trying to find the best alternative for disposing of the milk.

One possible alternative would be to feed it back to the cattle and other animals such as pigs, Gerlach said.

Farmers hope the lack of a market will be temporary and that they will soon be able to sell to a new dairy cooperative starting up near Palmer.

Kyle Beus, a former dairy farmer heading up the effort, has said he hopes to begin accepting local milk in January to make into cheese. But he does not know how much milk he can take or what he will be able to pay.

Meanwhile, the state Creamery Board is asking the state Legislature for up to $200,000 in financial aid for the four farmers.

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