The University of Maine Maine Business School’s Business, Agriculture, and Rural Development Technical Assistance Training Program received a $292,000 award from the Small Business Administration.
The BARD program was founded by Maine Business School’s Stephanie Welcomer, professor of management, and Erin Percival Carter, assistant professor of marketing, to fill a gap between contemporary business education and agriculture in the region.
The program begins by recruiting students interested in business and sustainable agriculture through a competitive application process, and provides them with training to develop the skills and knowledge needed to start a career working with growers and agricultural processors. Students complete a semester-long training and research program focused on working directly with small, sustainable agricultural enterprises to provide industry-relevant business advisory services, including data management, pricing, financial and strategic forecasting, market segmentation, product development, market intelligence and consumer research.
The first cycle of the BARD program, completed in 2020, worked directly with Maine’s artisanal cheese industry in partnership with the Maine Cheese Guild and Maine Farmland Trust.
“Despite the fact that COVID hit in the middle of the semester, the results were truly incredible,” says Percival Carter. “These students worked closely with their farmer clients and, with the incredible help of our industry advisors, developed and delivered comprehensive analyzes and proposals at the end of the semester that were quite exceptional. The need for this type of counseling exists in a number of Maine’s agricultural industries, and students crave the opportunity to work on something tangible and meaningful.
This year, the program will focus on the fiber industry – including wool, alpaca, flax, hemp and other plant and animal fibers – and value-added fiber producers and processors in the state and region. Maine fiber growers and processors recognize the general market and interest in their products, but struggle with a lack of information and guidance on how to manage production, set product prices to ensure profitability and position products to effectively differentiate offerings in the minds of consumers.
The BARD program will bring together enthusiastic students with fiber producers, mills, dye houses, retailers, designers and artists – as well as experts in climate sustainability, business and sustainable agriculture – to ensure that the industry of Maine fiber is uniquely positioned to take advantage of market trends toward more sustainable textile production.
SBA funding will help the BARD program expand and scale processes to develop a sustainable pipeline of agricultural service providers in the state with the training and experience to effectively support the agricultural sector. and fostering rural development with quality business advisory services, especially for agricultural producers. operating on a smaller scale or focused on producing niche products.
“I know agriculture appeals to students, but over the course of the semester they begin to appreciate not only the less romantic side, but also the critical need for help in managing the complexities of doing business in an incredibly challenging industry. said Percival Carter.
“At the end of the experiment, we certainly hope that we will have more students who are considering future career opportunities in agriculture, and specifically in Maine agriculture. But even if they decide to work on something else, we know they will have had this experience where they used what they learned to help strengthen something that really matters,” she said.