During an engagement effort that was coordinated by a group of agriculture organizations and farm business owners between August 2018 and January 2019, farmers across the state were asked to share their ideas about what is needed to strengthen farm businesses and grow Maine agriculture. The purpose of this statewide engagement process is to inform state policy development and the programmatic offerings of agriculture service and education providers. Over 160 people participated in the various in-person and online engagement opportunities, and over 110 of the participants identified as farmers. A report synthesizing the feedback received through this process was recently finalized.
MFT is very grateful to the farmers and other stakeholders who participated and took the time to contribute their knowledge and ideas. We are also very appreciative of the critical participation of Penny Jordan, Nanne Kennedy, Jeff O’Donal and Stewart Smith as farm business owners in our planning cohort, as well as the collaborative efforts of our partners at CEI, Cooperative Extension, Maine Food Strategy, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society.
At MFT, we are excited for these findings to help inform our strategic planning process that is currently underway. Below is an excerpt from the report that highlights the top recurring themes surrounding the needs and priorities of Maine farmers.
Recurring Themes across All Feedback Streams
(Number of mentions appears in parentheses)
Farmers’ Desire for Support to Meet Day-to-Day Business Needs:
- Access to information, resources, and training (e.g. on-farm support, marketing, business planning, market research, farm transition services, commodity specific support, research about farming practices, etc.) (274)
- Access to new and existing markets where farm businesses can sell their products (89)
- Solutions to rising production and processing costs (e.g. labor, energy, transportation, animal feed, and farm infrastructure) (83)
- Solutions to labor challenges (e.g. labor shortage, worker retention, workforce training, employee housing, and worker’s compensation) (58)
- Access to capital for necessary improvements to and investments in the farm business (39)
- Profitability is essential and a pre-requisite for implementing solutions to day-to-day farm operations challenges (27)
Farmers’ Desire for Changes to External Factors that Limit Profitability & Influence Day-to-Day Business Needs:
- Increase consumer education on the value of farms as a service to the community, environment, and economy (63)
- Change tax policies at all levels of government that currently limit the viability of Maine farm businesses (40)
- Expand efforts to keep land in agriculture or available for agricultural use (39)
- Reduce the existing regulatory burden on Maine farm businesses (35)
- Make changes to existing agriculture policies and programs (35)
- Limit market intervention by nonprofits and government, which creates unbalanced competition (30)
- Determine financial valuation of farms based on land, soil, and infrastructure, in recognition of the full benefits of farms to communities (20)
Important note about this report:
The data contained in this report are the direct feedback of participants engaged in a statewide outreach process carried out between August 2018 and January 2019 that was designed to gather input on the needs and priorities of Maine farmers. The framework of those discussions and this report was organized in accordance with the 2013 Strategic Plan of the Agricultural Council of Maine (AGCOM).
Information in the report is strictly data with minimal interpretation. The next step in this initiative is for industry representatives to review the report, to identify themes that are representative of and broadly applicable to Maine’s diverse farming community, and to prioritize action items relevant to economic sustainability. Once identified, these unifying themes can serve as the basis for further program and policy development work that benefits Maine farms and businesses.