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  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.

     

  • New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef



    By Ramona du Houx

    New federal rules will require grocery stores to keep track of the sources of ground beef.

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said the regulations, she pushed for, will help track food-borne illnesses like the antibiotic-resistant salmonella outbreak linked to Hannaford Supermarkets in 2011. 

    "I'm glad USDA has issued these rules that will make it mandatory for retailers to keep track of where the beef they are grinding is coming from—this is something we have been pushing hard for and I'm glad regulators have agreed it's necessary.  As we learned the hard way, the voluntary guidelines that have been in place were just not sufficient when contaminated ground beef ended up in the grocery store," said Pingree.

    The Congresswoman had pushed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to toughen up requirements for retailers to keep careful records of the sources of meat used to produce ground beef in their butcher shops. 

    Pingree, who sits on the committee that oversees the USDA's budget, had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pushing for better record keeping to allow quick tracing of food-born illnesses related to tainted ground beef.

    Pingree said while the record keeping will help find the source of illnesses from ground beef, the increased use of antibiotics in animal feed continues to put consumers at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

    "The particular strain of Salmonella found in the 2011 outbreak was drug resistant, something we are seeing more and more often," said Pingree. "The use of human antibiotics in animal feed has become more and more common and it's leading to new strains of infections that no longer respond to the antibiotics we have.  It's a pretty scary problem."

    The Salmonella linked to the outbreak four years ago was multi-drug resistant.  Although the infections traced to the ground beef responded to some drugs, a number of antibiotics normally used to treat Salmonella proved ineffective with that strain. 

    The incidence of drug resistant infections in farm animals has been on the increase since large-scale cattle, hog and chicken growers started adding antibiotics to feed.  The antibiotics help ward off some of the disease that comes when animals are packed into tighter quarters and fed lower quality feed.  But when antibiotics are given to animals on a daily basis, it doesn’t take long for new, drug-resistant forms of the disease to emerge.

    Pingree is a sponsor of a bill banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed unless they are medically necessary and has pushed federal officials to limit their use.

  • Four rural Maine businesses to receive a total of $247,702 for Value-Added Agricultural Production from USDA

    Locally Grown farm production in Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    USDA is investing nearly $34 million to help 258 businesses nationwide.  In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive Grants for value-added production activities. 

       “This funding will enable farmers and ranchers to develop new products, improve the bottom line for their operations and help create a robust local and regional food system,” said Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita F. Dore. “Value-Added Producer Grants provide capital to enable ag producers to grow their business through diversification. USDA’s support is especially important for beginning farmers and smaller farm operations.”

       In Maine, four rural agribusinesses have been selected to receive a total of $247,702 for value-added production activities.

     “This investment by USDA Rural Development supports the innovation and vision of these four rural Maine agricultural entrepreneurs who are looking to expand marketing opportunities for their value-added agricultural products. These grants will help contribute to the long-term sustainability of each business and aid in retaining and creating jobs in Maine,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    • Century Elm Farms, dba Boothby's Orchard and Farm located in Livermore has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $48,299. Funds will be used to brand and expand the existing unpasteurized apple cider and winemaking operations through process improvements and enhanced marketing.
    • Maine Top Mill, LLC, located in Waldoboro has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $49,990. Funds will be used to pay for spinning raw alpaca fiber into a very fine yarn with the aid of a marketing campaign and a direct selling e-commerce portal on the company's website. Funds will also be used to produce samples and kits to market.
    • Aroostook Hops, LLC, located in Westfield has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $24,413. Funds will be used to pay for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.
    • Cara Sammons, dba Flying Goat Farm, located in Acton has been selected to receive a Value-Added Producer Grant in the amount of $125,000. Funds will be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

       Value-Added Producer Grants can be used to develop new agricultural products or additional markets for existing ones. Military veterans, socially-disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers, operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, and farmer and rancher cooperatives are given priority when applying for these grants.

       Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.  

       Since 2009, USDA has awarded 1,115 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $154 million. Approximately 18 percent of the grants and 14 percent of total funding has been awarded to beginning farmers and ranchers. During 2015, more than one-third of Value-Added awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local foods sector.

       Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems. These are major contributors to rural economic development. Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill. That measure builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

       Rural Development helped 84 agricultural producers carry out local foods projects in 2014 through almost $8.9 million in Value-Added Producer Grant awards.

         USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor.

     Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at http://www.rd.usda.gov/me.