Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy 

(The Center Square) - Alaskan farmers will soon be eligible for loan forgiveness for activities that increase food production and distribution, according to a bill the governor signed into law last week.

House Bill 298 calls for the creation of a forgivable loan program for farm development, improvement, and meat processing facilities. The bill states loans can be forgiven for farmers who implement approved business plans, including clearing land for agricultural use, buying or maintaining buildings, equipment, livestock, feed, bees or keeping.

The bill says forgivable loans should be awarded preferentially to facilities that “prioritize seasonally feasible” processing of meat from animals raised in Alaska. Applicants could get up to $250,000 in loans forgiven if they implement an approved business plan for eligible expenses.

The bill also creates the Alaska Food Strategy Task Force with the goal of developing a statewide food strategy, improving food security, and growing the state’s food economies, according to the bill.

“The task force will help to ensure food security across Alaska – a need that was emphasized by the pandemic,” said Dunleavy.

The task force will be responsible for giving recommendations for state policy and legislation for seven focus areas, including sustainably growing the agriculture industry, sustainably growing markets for locally grown, harvested and processed foods, enhancing the climate for food and beverage processing or distribution businesses, minimizing food waste, improving outcomes for state-fun programs affecting food availability and access, ensuring food security in all communities, and improving transportation and infrastructure to transfer and deliver food throughout the state, according to the bill.

The governor also signed House Bill 347 into law, which is meant to protect farmers’ privacy in the instance of testing for and containing a virus.

“This bill exempts certain animal records maintained by the Department from the Alaska Public Records Act, yet allows sharing the records with other government agencies in the event of an animal disease outbreak response or investigation,” said the bill’s fiscal note. “The bill allows the Department to continue disclosing animal disease records to the public, so long as the information is presented in a manner that prevents the identification of individual animals, people, or businesses.”