The Maine Agricultural Trades Show, in its 76th year, offered the opportunity for agriculture businesses, trade groups, farmer networks and industry representatives to discuss the industry, shop for needed equipment, and equip themselves with the resources they need for a successful farming season.
“The 2017 Agricultural Trades Show was a great success,” Samantha Howard, Agricultural Promotions Coordinator, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said. “We had over 120 vendors at the show, and over 30 meetings that all focused on education, industry innovation and networking, to help grow agriculture in Maine.”
A variety of programming tracks on each of the three days, allowed everyone from the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, to the Beginning Farmer Resource Network, the Maine Cheese Guild, the Maine Christmas Tree Association, and the Maine Beef Producers Association – among many other fruit, vegetable and grain grower groups – to hold annual meetings, present workshops and connect members with the latest in research, review best management practices, and offer training and certification.
“The Maine Agricultural Trades Show and the concurrent meetings that take place at the show are very useful to farmers,” Richard Brzozowski, Food System Program Administrator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension said. “Everyone typically returns home with ideas to apply. The show takes place at a time of year that most farmers can participate.”
Brzozowski spent some time introducing Colt Knight, newly hired State Livestock Specialist with University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Knight was on hand to meet with Maine’s beef producers, sheep breeders, dairy farmers and many others during the show.
“The Maine Beef Producers Association is made up of Maine beef farmers who are working together to maintain a viable beef cattle industry through producer education, cooperative marketing, and development and support of youth programs,” Donna Coffin, University of Maine Cooperative Extension said. “Now that the nation’s beef herds is rebuilt, the commodity prices of beef have gone back down,” and beef producers are facing some challenges heading into 2017.”
The annual show offered the group the opportunity to explore options to enhance processing and direct market sales opportunities. Maine farmers have been working to establish direct market sales to consumer, institutions, restaurant and retailers. Animals raised with a variety of protocols, such as grass-fed, natural, or humanely raised can offer the opportunity to aggregate animals, reaching new markets.
“One option we reviewed at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show was the use of a food hub facility, like Mad River in Vermont, where the carcass could be aged, cut and wrapped, or developed into a value-added product, with storage onsite, until it is distributed,” Coffin said.
Luce’s Meats, a USDA inspected slaughterhouse and butchering plant, operated by Arnold and Elaine Luce, tempted passersby with the aroma of sizzling sausage. Luce’s Meats processes animals for other farms, as well as the family’s own farm. Under their Maine Farms Brand label, the family offers meat grown by a variety of Maine’s small farmers, and aggregated to develop relationships with consumers, restaurants and retailers.
The Hops School was a full day affair, run by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s David Handley. Featured speakers included Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Hop Specialist Steve Miller, Maine hops growers Ryan Houghton, from the Hops Yard, and local craft brewers.
While Maine has a high density of craft breweries, hop growers in New York are “further along than Maine,” Miller said. Maine hops growers can learn from the fledgling industry’s successes and mistakes as the industry evolves.
Certified organic producers had the opportunity to learn about scaling up, too. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association hosted a moderated panel discussion, featuring both livestock and vegetable producers, who’ve had success scaling up their operations to serve wholesale markets.
Fiber producers, too, learned about opportunities in the industry. Sheep and alpaca farmers were well-represented at the show. Bartlettyarns, a historic wool mill located in Harmony Maine, hosted a presentation on their operation, discussing wool processing opportunities available to Maine’s fiber producers.
“It is a great way to start the new year as farmers plan for their respective operations,” Brzozowski said.