2018-2019 Statewide Highlights

girl at farmers market holding tomato'sSo You Want To Farm In Maine

Relevance – Interest in agriculture and starting new farms in Maine has increased dramatically over the past fifteen years. One-third of Maine’s farmers are beginning farmers with fewer than 10 years of experience. Forty-seven percent of new farm businesses fail within the first five years. Current farmers thinking about changing farm enterprises and new farmers interested in starting a farm often lack skill, knowledge, and confidence in areas such as business planning, access to capital, rules, and regulations affecting agriculture operations, and marketing.

Response – Since 2011, UMaine Extension has provided educational outreach through its “So You Want to Farm in Maine” series to enhance the skills, business management knowledge, confidence of new and established farmers. The programs are live, live-streamed, and archived. One-on-one consultations help potential farmers to best utilize natural resources, web-based resources and seek appropriate guidance from other agricultural service providers.

Results – Since 2011 the SYWTFIM series has reached over 800 participants from all Maine counties and out-of-state. Since 2014, an online new farmer self-assessment has been used 190 times, and Extension staff have consulted with 505 new farmers statewide. A survey sample of these farmers revealed:

  • Fifty-one new farm businesses have been started where the farm operator has a good understanding of the importance of business planning and how to connect to the educational, financial, and service resources available to them in Maine.
  • Eighty-eight new jobs, with estimated wages of $612,000 annually.
  • An estimated total market value of agricultural products sold by these farms of over $2.2 million annually.
  • FSA loaned $2.4 Million in farm loans the farmers who attended the SYWTFIM training sessions.

4-H Ambassadors Sparking Student Interest In Stem Careers

Relevance – Relevant, meaningful, and authentic experiences in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are important to developing positive attitudes, increasing knowledge, and preparing Maine youth for the estimated 9 million STEM-related occupations projected between 2012 and 2022. Developing Maine youth’s STEM literacy is vital to ensuring that our state continues to thrive economically and socially. Given the remote and diverse communities to which Maine youth belong, informal education can help minimize inequities in rural youth STEM education and career pipelines.

Response – In coordination with the University of Maine System, the 4-H STEM Ambassador program trained 120 college students in the development and delivery of informal STEM-based educational experiences. Combined, these volunteers worked with over 1,000 youth and committed 2,400 hours of time including training, preparation, and program delivery. Through this program, youth ages 8-14 come to view these Ambassadors as mentors and leaders in their community while also developing skills in STEM through hands-on activities.

Results – In 2018 the 4-H STEM Ambassador program provided experiential programming to over 1,000 youth. Sixty-six community sites, including schools and afterschool partners, participated with teachers and administrators reporting high levels of satisfaction. Student participants reported that without this program their instructional time with STEM would be reduced. As a result of this program participating youth have demonstrated positive attitudes, increased knowledge, and expanded interest in STEM and STEM careers. This year, all seven UMaine System campuses participated in the 4-H STEM program.

Two youth doing a science experiment

Helping Rural Entrepreneurs Increase Profitability

Substance in an industrial mixerRelevance – Small businesses are very important to the economic vitality of Maine’s rural economy. One in five jobs in rural Maine are created by small-scale entrepreneurs employing five or fewer workers. However, many of these entrepreneurs lack the business skills needed to successfully start-up and grow their businesses. Research shows that helping rural entrepreneurs improve their business skills will improve their chances for success.

One of the most important business management skills is pricing, yet many small business owners lack the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a profitable pricing strategy.

Response – During the past year, the UMaine Extension conducted pricing workshops across the state, presented a pricing webinar in collaboration with the Maine Food Strategy, and taught a pricing seminar at a statewide conference for Maine entrepreneurs. The goal of the program was to help existing and aspiring entrepreneurs improve their pricing knowledge and skills so they could develop profitable pricing strategies for their businesses. Extension faculty conducted classes on topics including key elements of pricing, pricing models, pricing strategies, price elasticity of demand, markup vs. margin and cost analysis.

Results – More than 80 rural entrepreneurs from across Maine participated in this highly successful training. They included specialty food producers, farmers, craft artists, food retailers, environmental consultants, bookkeepers, and other small rural businesses. Eighty-seven percent of the participants indicated that they plan to set a new price for their product or service, and all participants plan to adopt the pricing techniques they had learned. Several entrepreneurs who had attended the workshops indicated that they subsequently created pricing strategies that led to increased profitability for their businesses.

The County Extension Act

The County Extension Act explains the role of county government in funding local Extension offices.

Cooperative Extension work shall consist of the giving of practical demonstrations in agriculture and natural resources, youth development, and home economics and community life and imparting information on those subjects through field demonstrations, publications and otherwise. For the purpose of carrying out this chapter, there may be created in each county or combination of two counties within the State an organization known as a “county extension association,” and its services available to all residents of a county. The county extension is viewed as a unique and important educational program of county government. The executive committee of each county extension association shall prepare an annual budget as requested, showing in detail its estimate of the amount of money to be expended under this chapter within the county of counties for the fiscal year. The executive committee shall submit to the board of county commissioners on a date requested by the county commissioners, and the county commissioners may, if they deem it justifiable, adopt an appropriate budget for the county extension program and levy a tax therefore. The amount thus raised by direct taxation within any county or combination of counties for the purposes of this chapter shall be used for the salaries of clerks, provision of office space, supplies, equipment, postage, telephone, a contribution toward the salaries of county educators and such other expenses as necessary to maintain an effective county extension program.1

1Excerpted from Title 7, Chapter 7 of the Maine Revised Statutes, §191–§195.

Photos by: Donna Coffin, Anette Moulton, Sheila Norman, Trisha Smith, Edwin Remsberg