By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A small group of economic development experts in Havre on Thursday stuffed a wealth of information about value-added agriculture into a one-hour presentation.
And in case local producers want to get involved, Bear Paw Development Corp. is adding a new position just to help develop value-added businesses.
"I felt this was a concise and informative presentation," said James Dolph of Havre, a farmer who said he's thinking about getting involved in value added. "They told us where the resources are."
Representatives of Bear Paw Development Corp., the state departments of agriculture and commerce, and the Montana Cooperative Development Center told a crowd of about 50 people at the Duck Inn about resources to help pay for feasibility studies and startup and operating costs, and to help write business plans and research ideas.
"There is an amazing amount of resources in this state to either tell you it won't work or to tell you it will work and take you to the next level," said Craig Erickson of Bear Paw Development.
Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development, said the nonprofit corporation was awarded a $75,000 grant that will be used to start the Montana Agriculture Incubation Center at Bear Paw.
"It's kind of an exciting thing to add to the plethora of things we do," he said.
Tuss said Bear Paw will advertise to hire a value-added agriculture specialist. The specialist will be a one-stop shop for information about value-added agriculture and resources to develop a value-added ag business, he said.
Arnold Peterson, who has been involved in business development and agriculture in Hill County for decades, said after the luncheon he thinks the use of value-added agriculture will grow in north-central Montana.
"I think it has a future. It's going to take a while," said Peterson, who was one of the founders of the local chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives and served on many cooperative and association boards, including the Farmers Grain Exchange, the Montana Grain Growers Association and Triangle Telephone Cooperative.
His son, Charles Peterson, and grandson, Brent Peterson, farm north of Havre.
Brent Peterson said he would like to follow up on the information he heard during the luncheon.
"We're not doing (value-added agriculture) now," he said. "I'd like to see if it would work for our place."
Erickson said many businesses could qualify for help as value-added ag, such as those that butcher livestock, process livestock waste into methane, convert wind into electricity, or process vegetables into specialty crops, like the cooperative near Chester that's studying growing baby carrots and building a plant to process them.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development has money available to help create value-added businesses, he said.
If a producer has an idea to add value to his crops, "it's very likely you're eligible for this program," he said.
Brent Poppe of the state Department of Agriculture said the department's Growth through Agriculture program and the Agricultural Marketing and Business Development Bureau he heads can provide money and technical asssistance to help people start value-added businesses.
The Growth through Agriculture program can provide grants, deferred loans and standard loans to help start or operate a business, he said.
Randy Hanson, the Department of Commerce's regional development officer, said he works with two programs that can help start value-added ag businesses - the Community Development Block Grant program and the Treasure State Endowment Program.
Cheryl MacArthur, interim executive director of the Montana Cooperative Development Center in Great Falls, said the center will work with people to find out if a cooperative is the best way to form a value-added ag business.
Tiffany Korb, director of the Small Business Development Center at Bear Paw Development, said she provides free confidential services including assistance in writing business plans, financial analysis, market research, plans for advertising and promotion, training in all areas of business management, and referral to business professionals as needed.
All of the presenters said planning is crucial both in applying for help and in operating the business. Most loans and grants will not be given without a thoroughly researched plan.
Another key is that the owner must be willing to invest in the business, they said. Most of the funding programs require a match from the business.
"If you're a producer and you're not willing to put some cash on the barrelhead, it ain't gonna happen," Erickson said. "You have to have some personal commitment to the project."
On the Net: Bear Paw Development: www.bearpaw.org
Montana Department of Agriculture: agr.state.mt.us
Montana Department of Commerce: commerce.state.mt.us
USDA Rural Development Montana: www.rurdev.usda.gov/mt/