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Maine’s Farms for the Future Program – Business Planning Grant
July 22, 2004
For Immediate Release Contact: Mary Ellen Johnston, 207-287-3491, Mary.Ellen.Johnston@maine.gov
AUGUSTA – The deadline to apply for the next round of business planning grants through the Maine Farms for the Future program is August 29, 2004.
The Farms for the Future Program is a two-step program that helps Maine farmers increase the long-term economic viability of their farm.
“This has become an extremely popular program. People are realizing how important business plans are for so many of Maine’s farm families,” Agriculture Commissioner Robert W. Spear said. “Farmers are not only looking to improve their profits, they are also working to build stable, sustainable operations for future generations to farm.”
In Phase 1, farmers apply to receive a package of services, worth up to $10,000, to work with skilled professionals in developing a detailed business plan. Applications are accepted once a year in late summer. Most of the research and writing of the business plan takes place during the fall and winter months.
Farmers who have completed business plans during Phase 1 are eligible to apply for a competitive grant to implement the changes identified in their business plans. Farmers who are awarded a Phase 2 cash grant receive 25 percent of the cost to implement the changes in their plan. Grants are limited to $25,000 and farmers are responsible for the remaining 75 percent, which may include cash, low-interest loans, other grants, and in-kind services. Additionally, they are required to sign a non-development covenant in which they agree to maintain their property in agricultural use for five years. Farmers can buy back the covenant at any time by repaying the full amount of the grant.
In 2003, Maine’s voters approved a $2,000,000 bond for the Farms for the Future Program. These funds are currently matched by $200,000 from Coastal Enterprises, Inc., which administers the program for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources.
From Madawaska to South Berwick, this program is filling one of the primary needs of Maine’s agricultural community; specialized business assistance. Many farmers have an idea for a new product or marketing strategy, but lack resources to develop the idea into a viable business plan. In less than three years, farmers’ participation in Farms for the Future has grown from 32 applicants and 22 grantees in 2001, to 76 applicants and 48 grantees in 2003.
All types of farms - from commodity dairy farms to diversified fruit and vegetable operations - are seeking to investigate a wide variety of business ideas from improving marketing, increasing production and adding product value, to purchasing land, equipment and advice about preserving and transferring the farm.
To date, 75 farmers have completed comprehensive business plans. Twenty-six have gone on to compete for and win a total of $552,764 to implement their plans. Every dollar of public funds that Farms for the Future has invested has been matched by another three dollars of cash and in-kind services from these farmers, worth a total of $1,658,292. These farmers are signing non-development covenants because they are seeing their profitability increase. As a result, nearly 5,000 acres of Maine’s productive farmland is safe from conversion for the next five to ten years.
The Department of Agriculture and Coastal Enterprises Inc., attribute the Program’s success to the fact that business assistance is individualized to address each farm’s particular needs and opportunities, and it is provided by people who have extensive knowledge of farming in Maine. Farms for the Future business planning teams include field scientists and business specialists who work for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, University of Maine Small Business Development Centers and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as several other private organizations.
Applications for the next round of business planning assistance are due on August 29, 2004. The two-page application takes less than 30 minutes to complete. Anyone interested in applying should contact Mary Ellen Johnston at the Department of Agriculture, 287-3491.
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