(The Center Square) – Maryland agricultural areas received funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help rural areas keep and create jobs.
The grants and loans are part of a $1.4 billion investment by the USDA in rural areas across the nation, according to a news release by the USDA.
“We certainly support improving local economies through an economic gardening approach,” Charlotte Davis, executive director of the Rural Maryland Council, told The Center Square. “You look at what you have, you look at the small businesses that you do have, and you encourage and develop the growth of the businesses and the entrepreneurs that you have in your community.”
Out of the eight programs the USDA is making investments in, Maryland recipients qualified for assistance through Value-Added Producer Grants, the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and Business and Industry Loan Guarantees.
Of the $1.4 billion, Maryland’s share is relatively small, Davis said, adding that it is hard for the state to qualify for rural development grants because of the discrepancies between the state and federal definitions for what is designated as rural.
The state’s definition designates 75% of Maryland as rural, but the Old Line State is losing farms, according to Davis. Among the reasons for farms disappearing is an aging population leading to workforce issues and the fact that farms aren’t being passed on generationally, she said.
“We want farming to stay in Maryland and we want this to be sustainable into the future,” Davis said. “The Value-Added Producer Grants are really helpful in that we’re transitioning those farms from traditional commodity agriculture to more of a food processing/value-added production. They’re going to get a higher value for the commodity that they are growing.”
Davis points out that the state has an oversupply of dairy.
“With all that excess production, we’re really pushing things like ice cream and cheese, but again it takes a lot of time to get those facilities constructed – it’s really expensive,” she said. “A lot of times it doesn’t even pencil out until year 10, so a bank isn’t going to lend money in that case because they want to start seeing returns right away.”
That’s where the grants come in.
“These grants are designed to give them that flexibility and that lead time – give them the support for those years that they’re going to need to get them transitioned over,” Davis said. “We believe that value-added agriculture is the way to diversify and transition our farms.”