October 4, 2023

To celebrate National Alaska Day on June 28, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is highlighting the innovative NIFA-funded research conducted by University of Alaska’s Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm, established in 1906, is shown in an aerial photo dated 1938. The barn at the left of the image and the house at the right are still standing.   

Historical Background 

Alaska’s Agricultural and Forestry Experiment stations date to territorial times when Charles Christian Georgeson arrived to explore Alaska’s agricultural potential. He established seven agriculture experiment stations, including in the then-territorial capital Sitka in 1898. Stations followed in Kodiak, Kenai, Rampart, Copper Center, Fairbanks and the Matanuska Valley. Fairbanks (1906) and the Matanuska Experiment Station in Palmer (1915) are the only two remaining. In 1931, ownership of the experiment stations was transferred to the College of Agriculture and Mines in Fairbanks. The college was renamed the University of Alaska in 1935. 

Successes and Innovations 

Work is ongoing to determine which fruit and vegetable cultivars grow well in Alaska. This year, AFES researchers are evaluating more than 130 cultivars of 17 different vegetable crops in Fairbanks and a subset of those in Palmer.

Research has focused on introducing grain, fruit and vegetable cultivars that will grow and thrive in Alaska’s harsh and varied climates. Successes include the development of several grain varieties, including Sunshine hulless barley; Denali and Alaska red potatoes; Kiska raspberries; Toklat, Pioneer and Sitka strawberries; Alaska Frostless potato; Yukon Chief corn; and Early Tanana tomato. 

A related success is peony production. Twenty years ago, a UAF researcher discovered that Alaska peonies bloom in June and July, far later than in other areas. As a result, the state now exports hundreds of thousands of blooms every summer. Peonies are the state’s only agricultural export. 

NIFA-Funded Research 

Alaska imports 95 percent of its food. The development of subarctic and Arctic cultivars with NIFA-funded research helps improve the state’s food security and help the state’s growers adapt to the rapidly changing climate. Alaska is warming faster than the contiguous 48 states. Melting permafrost is making some agricultural fields unusable. 


Future Research 

The Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center in Palmer plants more than 125 varieties of potatoes annually to see which do best in Alaska’s short growing season. In the past century, University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have developed several varieties of potatoes for Alaska growing conditions.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension, which houses the Experiment Stations has a number of specific goals.  

  • support food health and sustainability in the far north through the lens of climate change 
  • support research that drives economic development and strengthens food security in the state of Alaska 
  • investigate the changing dynamics of the Boreal Forest in response to climate change 
  • incorporate Indigenous knowledge into natural resource management 
  • promote responsible management of natural resources  
  • build circumpolar soil health knowledge through research 

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