AGRICULTURE is a significant part of Maryland's economy as
well as its landscape. The state assists agricultural businesses in various ways, including help in exporting farm products.
The place to start is the Maryland Department of Agriculture in Annapolis. The phone number is (301) 841-5881.
Agriculture is the state's largest employer, according to Robert L. Walker, the department's deputy secretary. The department estimates that for each additional farmer another seven jobs are generated. The state developed this number through a review of the number of people who handle food or other agricultural products. The jobs include food distributors, packing houses, tree growers, wholesalers/retailers of farm products and the jobs related to horse-breeding activities.
The state estimates that 16,000 Maryland farms generate about $1.4 billion in annual revenues. The average farm is 147 acres, and 2.3 million acres are in use. Maryland farms average $90,637 in gross revenues, a figure reflecting both large and part-time operations.
The main products are dairy items, corn, wheat, soybeans, tobacco and barley. Poultry is also a big-ticket item as the Delmarva farmers can confirm with Frank Purdue and Holly Farms contracts. Maryland produces over 1 billion pounds of poultry products (representing 250,000 birds) that generate one-third of the state's agricultural revenues.
International: The state and the federal governments work together to give farmers exporting assistance. The motivation is economic growth. For every $1 million increase in U.S. exports, there is a $1.5 million increase in U.S. payroll and a $5.5 million increase in business activity, according to Errol D. Small, international marketing specialist at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The phone number is (301) 841-5770.
The department is an active member of the Southern United States Trade Association. SUSTA organizes overseas trade shows and provides information on the shipment or financing of exports. It can also assist the department's Office of International Marketing Services to find trade opportunities.
The department will help you identify and participate in various trade conferences in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Targeted Export Assistance Program. The conferences usually focus on specific themes. Upcoming expositions include food and beverage shows scheduled in Canada next February and in Puerto Rico in April. A conference on plants and flowers will be held in Germany in February, and a livestock conference will be held in Mexico during October.
Rather than pay to rent a booth at a conference, you can share a booth with the state at no cost. If you cannot afford the time and/or money to attend, the state will even represent your products at the event and bring back the names of interested parties.
Participation in recent events in Hong Kong, Canada and Puerto Rico resulted in orders for Maryland products. In conjunction with the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association, a conference in Puerto Rico produced a number of Christmas tree shipments to the Caribbean. At another event, an Owings Mills food company received two significant orders that were paid with travelers checks at the conference. Being paid on the spot for sales abroad contrasts with the common practice in international trade. The first step is to discover a buyer of your products in a foreign country. The next step usually is spending a number of weeks to arrange for a purchase order and confirm the buyer's method of payment.
Foreign permits, fees and tariffs may make it difficult for Americans to compete in many countries. To give you a fighting chance against foreigners supported by their governments, the department will help you apply to SUSTA for a supplemental grant. The amount may not exceed $275,000 and the grant is limited to food products. The "processing fee" is 2 percent of the amount approved. Applications can be submitted now for the fTC next round of grants, to be awarded next spring. It takes about four weeks to process an application.
Domestic sales: In conjunction with the University of Maryland, the department offers the Mid-Atlantic Market Studies service. For little or no cost, it conducts specific market studies for the domestic sales of your products.
Information: The department gathers and disseminates information helpful to agricultural businesses. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state provides statistics on production trends, marketing, product pricing and revenues. One useful item is the department's free trade directory, which lists many Maryland agricultural exporters and companies such as shipping services that can help in the export process.
The University of Maryland also offers the assistance of the Cooperative Extension Service Agricultural Division. Through this program "new ideas in research and study are brought in practical ways to farms..." Focus areas include nutrient management, chemical usage, maximizing crop yields and help in deciding whether to rent or buy equipment.
The bottom line: If agriculture is your business choice, get direct assistance from the state to help avoid some of the difficulties experienced by many farmers before you.
Patrick Rossello, president of The Business Consulting Group in Towson, is a member of a number of local advisory boards including the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. His column appears every other week. Look for the next one on Dec. 10. Send suggested topics to him c/o Money at Work, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.