NMDC applies for $95,000 to boost ag sales

8 years ago
By Christopher Bouchard
Staff Writer

ALAINOULLETTE 16822916

Aroostook Republican photo/Christopher Bouchard
NMCD PLANNING and Development Division Director Alain Ouellette presents the advantages of a program that will help farmers improve their businesses during NMDC’s Jan. 14 board meeting. The board ultimately voted to allow the submission of this proposal, which would award $95,000 to help farmers in both Aroostook and Washington counties.

 

CARIBOU — The Northern Maine Development Commission agreed to submit a Farm Services Administration proposal for $95,000 during their Jan. 14 board meeting after hearing Planning and Development Division Director Alain Ouellette’s proposal. If accepted, this money will go towards education that has the potential to help hundreds of local farmers improve their businesses.

“Recently, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency launched something that really caught our interest,” said Ouellette. “It is called the ‘Outreach and Education, Technical Assistance, and Financial Education for FSA programs, Functions, and Activities.’ In English what that means is ‘we like what we’re selling but we need help selling it.’

“It is not a grant, it is a cooperative agreement,” he added. Nationally, the FSA is making $2,500,000 available for these programs. The award ceiling per grant is listed as just under $100,000. Any agencies and organizations applying must be 501(c)(3) to qualify.

According to Ouellette, the FSA expects that there are going to be 125 awards given across the country.

“The FSA has a lot of programs,” continued Ouellette. “There are 20 listed in their federal funding opportunity. Based on the information provided to us by the Aroostook County FSA offices, we’ve learned that only nine of those 20 programs are being accessed in both Aroostook and Washington counties. Based on research done by Jon (Gulliver), we discovered in both counties that we have over 1,000 self-reported farm enterprises, so obviously there is some room here where we can promote these programs and others.”

Ouellette is teaming up with Investor and Community Relations Director Gulliver, NMDC Executive Director Bob Clark, Loan Officers Julie Corey and Dave Spooner, PTAC Dana Delano, MEP Project Manager Ken LeTourneau, and SBDC Director Josh Nadeau.

“Our outreach initiative has four core goals,” explained Ouellette. “First, we are going to identify the beneficiaries in both counties. We want to use our experience and try to make the farmer a bit better at managing his or her operation. We want them to become better business people and we want them to consider letting the FSA programs help them be successful. We think the cost of delivery for this program that we’re going to develop is about $95,000 and will last for a period of about 12 months.”

“Our activities are really three-fold,” continued Ouellette. “The first is our business and finance training sessions. We’re going to host three in north, central and southern Aroostook County and two in Washington County. The components of these business training sessions will include business planning, learning about cash flow, analyzing financial reports, payables, earnings, and accrual accounting.

“The second step is going to be a pretty sophisticated media outreach program, coordinated by Jon Gulliver, where we will use all internet-based and media-based outreach efforts to make FSA programs known to the farming community. Finally, we are going to be attending and promoting the FSA programs and others that are offered by NMDC at the various farmer’s markets and ag-fairs that take place throughout Aroostook and Washington counties,” he added.

One of the first steps is an outreach assessment, which will provide more details about the effectiveness of certain programs.

“We know that there are a few programs that have been used so far,” said Ouellette, “but we want to know more details. We want to set some kind of benchmark that will help us measure our performance. We’re then going to reach out to the farming community. We’re going to host discovery meetings and ask what they’re good at and what they need help with. In our world, we call that a gap analysis. From that, we are going to develop course syllabi, have two public kick-off events, and then finally begin with our technical assistance and training workshops. The key to this whole thing will be to track the results.”