2/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Lorraine Merrill New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner
The Farm & Forest Expo’s recent string of good weather luck ran out this year, with the blizzard named Nemo holding down attendance Friday, and causing cancellation of the event Saturday.
Paid attendance was just one-tenth of the normal Friday gate. The usual busloads of schoolchildren did not come this year, but plenty of parents brought their children along since schools everywhere were closed.
While some of Friday’s workshops and meetings were canceled, others went on as scheduled. Many participants remarked on the quality of the smaller-group discussions in the workshops. Attendees and exhibitors enjoyed more substantive conversations and interactions made possible by the lack of crowds.
A surprising number of diehards came to the awards reception Friday evening. The first-annual Stephen H. Taylor Agricultural Leadership Award was presented to John Porter, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension professor emeritus. The award was established in honor of the 30th anniversary of Farm & Forest and the leadership of Taylor, the state’s former agriculture commissioner, who founded the expo. It recognizes outstanding work by an individual who works professionally in the field of agriculture.
Several workshop sponsors have vowed to reschedule their programs, so keep an eye out for news of those events.
In recent months, a series of farm lending summit meetings have brought together agricultural agencies and lenders, plus several new farm finance partners. Participants have included USDA Rural Development and USDA Farm Service Agency, Yankee Farm Credit and Farm Credit East, UNH Cooperative Extension, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, the Carrot Project, the Cooperative Fund of New England, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.
These meetings have highlighted new opportunities available to farm and food entrepreneurs. The Cooperative Fund, for example, works with businesses organized as cooperatives.
In January, the Farm Service Agency announced a new microloan program designed to help small and family operations, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers secure loans under $35,000. The microloan program aims to bolster farmers’ progress through start-up so they can eventually graduate to commercial credit and grow their businesses. The microloan program also promises a more simplified application process.
The farm finance group meetings have helped forge relationships between these diverse public and private nonprofit entities, with a goal of facilitating partnerships in putting together plans and packages to support farmers and other food and agriculture entrepreneurs in attaining their goals.
One example is the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s expanding New Hampshire Farm and Food Initiative.
NHCLF Vice President John Hamilton and Charlene Anderson, manager of business education, were among the hardy souls who spent all day Friday at Farm & Forest. NHCLF aims to fill financing gaps, extend credit to those who may have a hard time meeting traditional lenders’ criteria, and match business education opportunities to client needs.
Hamilton has contributed a guest column this week about their programs. (See page A6.) He has identified obstacles he wants to address to better serve the agricultural community in the state, including raising awareness of what NHCLF’s Food and Farm Initiative can offer existing farms and off-farm businesses.
Lorraine Merrill is New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food.