Corporation would help farms diversify
by ANDREW SCHOTZ firstname.lastname@example.org -->
WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County enthusiasts of a state agriculture corporation have visions of grapes.
The fledgling Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. (MARBIDCO) just started two financing programs for farmers and soon will have two more,
Wineries are profitable and good tourism draws, said Suzanne Hayes of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee and a member of a farm family.
As governor at the time, Republican Robert Ehrlich allocated MARBIDCO's first $1 million in the fiscal 2007 state budget.
Actually, O'Malley was required to put $3 million in the fiscal 2008 budget under the Agricultural Stewardship Act of 2006, which Ehrlich signed.
MARBIDCO must get $3.5 million in fiscal 2009 and $4 million a year over the next 11 years, the act says.
Washington County was fourth in the state for the number of farms as of 2002, the most recent year for U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics posted online.
Janet Shank Stiles, who owns Shenandoah Jerseys dairy farm south of Hagerstown, was named vice chair of MARBIDCO's board in 2005.
Wine has been that type of industry in southern Maryland, a different opportunity for tobacco
In one of its new programs, the corporation would finance half of the credit needed for riskier projects and would charge 2 percent interest. The maximum loan amount is $100,000.
A second program aids rural businesses' attempts to improve energy efficiency. On a bank loan of up to $50,000, MARBIDCO will buy down the interest rate by 4 percent.
"We write a check to the bank," McHenry said.
Another is a working-capital loan fund for rural businesses. McHenry said the interest rate probably will be 4 percent.
"It's becoming very expensive to become (a farmer) and there's not a lot of financial reward," he said.
"The best way to preserve land is to make farming profitable," Semler said. "At the end of the day, if you ask any farmer, none of them want to be rich. They just want to make a living for their family."