FARMINGTON – Western Mountains Alliance recognizes that if agriculture in western Maine is to be stabilized and/or grown, a unique loan program needs to reflect the reality of the small farms in Oxford, Somerset, Piscataquis, northern Androscoggin and Franklin counties.

In January 2003, the alliance established the Western Maine Farm Fund: A Loan with Local Roots, through the generosity of an anonymous donor whose goal is to enhance agriculture in the region by funding a loan program that is accessible and attractive to the agricultural community.

“As of March 2005, the farm fund has guaranteed 12 low fixed interest rate loans for eight farms in four western Maine counties, totaling $223,000, through partnerships with Bangor Savings, Franklin Savings, Skowhegan Savings, Androscoggin Bank and UnitedKingfield Bank,” said Tricia Cook, farm fund coordinator at the alliance.

Farmers will find support in the innovative loan program for the purchase of equipment, land, improvements and/or marketing costs.

As in the past, the region’s farms are for the most part still small (averaging a little more than 200 acres), family-owned and diversified. There are approximately 1,000 farms in the four western Maine counties.

A growing number of farmers have turned to what is called “niche” farming, raising special products for specific market segments, such as red deer for the upscale restaurant trade and award-winning goat cheese. Global food markets may bring new opportunities for entrepreneurial farmers.

The farm fund is designed to meet the credit needs of farmers located in the region. Participating banks offer low-interest loans, which range from $1,000 to $25,000 with terms ranging from 120 days to eight years. Loans can be made for the purchase of new and used equipment, improvement or expansion of farm infrastructure, purchase or lease of land, working capital, and marketing. The loans primarily support profit-motivated agricultural enterprises raising field crops, animals and fruit trees.

An Agricultural Advisory Committee advises the alliance on regional agricultural issues and plays a role in marketing the Western Maine Farm Fund to networks of farmers.

Interested farmers may stop by a participating bank for a brochure, contact Tricia Cook, fund coordinator at 778-8143.

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