Featuring LaJoie Growers
What work does MDACF’s Agricultural Resource Development Division do?
The mission of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry’s (MDACF) Agricultural Resource Development Division is to encourage agricultural development and sustainability through education, annual industry events, technical assistance, research, economic development, and environmental stewardship of Maine’s existing and future farm businesses. This case study will feature LaJoie Growers, an agricultural operation in Aroostook County, and highlight how their business has been impacted by the following Agricultural Resource Development Division programs and opportunities:
Agricultural Development Grant Program - This program provides cost share grants to conduct market promotion, market research and development, value-added processing and new technology demonstration projects. Started in 1996, the average annual allotment of funds is $250,000.
- Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund Program (AMLF) - Since 1996, this program has been providing financing to help Maine farms and agricultural businesses enhance and improve their products through new and innovative equipment and facilities that enhance the manufacturing, marketability, and production of Maine products. Farmers, food processors, and aquaculture operators can access the fund to enhance production processes, innovate marketing techniques, and/or make product improvement. Offers a loan at a 5% interest rate for either 75% or 90% of the total cost of a project for capital improvements for the business. The maximum loan amount is $250,000.
- Trade Show Participation - The Agricultural Resources Development Division offers programs for market promotion and special events. For the past two years, the MDACF has been providing Maine food producers with the opportunity to attend trade shows that are relevant to their product. Cost to the food producer varies based on show costs, location, and whether there is a custom setup or the exhibitors bring their own.The budget for this program varies.
These three programs require 15-20 hours staff time per week.
How well did MDACF do the work?
MDACF promotes these opportunities through various channels, including their website, mailing lists, social media, and networks.
Agricultural Development Grants
Since 1998, 157 grants have been awarded totaling $2,717,327.30.
There have been several years where no grants were awarded, which may have been due to DACF work flow/staffing issues.
It is a highly competitive grants process. For example, during the 2019 grant cycle, the MDACF received proposals totaling $2.7 million for the $250,000 available.
Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund Program
Over the years, the AMLF has helped finance 131 projects that have leveraged a total of $26,144,034 in investments in Maine’s agricultural infrastructure. Since program inception, the agricultural industry sectors with the highest loan volumes have been: dairy, $2,313,124; potato, $2,297,332; aquaculture services, $1,798,261; and crops sectors, $2,677,174. Also, it should be noted that the AMLF loans provided to the potato industry have been largely for equipment purchases and not for storage construction, a loan purpose that has largely been satisfied through the Potato Marketing Improvement Fund loan program.
The following challenges have existed:
- The program has been underutilized in recent years due to the existence of very competitive interest rates in the public sphere.
- It can be challenging for businesses to prepare for the loan underwriting process, and some don’t understand how formal a process it is.
- AMLF is not a source of quick funding. It can take a considerable length of time to complete the process, which can be a deterrent.
Since 2016, the MDACF has made it possible for 33 Maine food producers to attend one or more of the following trade shows:
- 2016 - Produce Marketing Association: Fresh Summit (Orlando, FL)
- 2017 - Produce Marketing Association: Fresh Summit (New Orleans, LA)
- 2018 - Produce Marketing Association: Fresh Summit (Orlando, FL)
- 2018 - National Restaurant Association Show (Chicago, IL)
- 2018 - America’s Food & Beverage Show (Miami, FL)
- 2019 - Natural & Organic Products Europe (London, England)
- 2019 - National Restaurant Association Show (Chicago, IL)
- 2019 - Specialty Food Association: Summer Fancy Show (New York, NY)
- 2019 - America’s Food & Beverage Show (Miami, FL)
It has been challenging to get this new program off the ground, but as more producers find success, more are interested in participating. The MDACF recently developed management tools - including applications, rubrics, and metrics - to help with the process.
Is anyone better off?
Since the MDACF does not have a formal system in place to track the impact of these programs, this case study will feature how the above financial assistance programs and trade show opportunities have impacted LaJoie Growers. The MDACF’s work has positively impacted goal I of the Maine Food Strategy Framework.
FEATURED BUSINESS: LAJOIE GROWERS
LaJoie Growers, LLC is a family-run, agricultural operation in Van Buren, Maine. The LaJoie family’s roots in farming go back five generations to 1901 when the first piece of farmland was purchased. In 2007, two brothers, who were raised on the original farmland, and their sons pooled their farmland and assets to form LaJoie Growers, LLC. The farm grows vegetables (mostly potatoes and beets, carrots, and parsnips) on approximately 600 acres and grain rotation crops on an additional 700 acres for different markets such as processing, chip, fresh and seed. In January 2019, LaJoie Growers started selling beet powder, a value-added product. The beets are grown, small batch processed, and packaged on the farm.
Ag Development Grant
LaJoie Growers was awarded two Agricultural Development Grants:
- $50,000 matching grant in 2016 for the implementation of a refrigeration system for beets to expand the market season and provide long-term storage of potatoes, carrots, and beets.
- $50,000 matching grant in 2018 to invest in necessary dehydration equipment and packing material to develop a value-added product and market it on a global scale. This funding helped LaJoie launch their beet powder business with plans to expand into dehydrated blueberries, golden beets, and other fresh vegetables in the future.
Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund
LaJoie Growers received an Agricultural Marketing Loan Fund in the amount of $250,000 in 2015 to put towards the construction of a new seed and vegetable cold storage facility. This loan provided leverage for additional funding and helped LaJoie expand their business.
The subsidized cost (not always provided) and established booth made it possible for LaJoie to participate in several trade shows. LaJoie Growers attended the Product Marketing Association (PMA) Show, which features fresh produce and floral, in 2016, 2017, and 2018. In 2019, a representative from LaJoie attended the Natural & Organic Products (NOPE) Show in London to market the beet powder.
Participation in these shows has opened doors to additional markets, given them perspective on competition, and helped them make valuable business connections. For example, LaJoie’s vegetables have been used in meal prep boxes from Blue Apron, a deal made following PMA in 2016. In fall 2018, LaJoie did market testing while also promoting their soon-to-be-released beet powder product at the PMA Show. At the 2019 NOPE show in London, attendees were excited to see the beet powder product and it was the only of its kind at the entire show, which poised them well for a move into the European market.