Financial assistance is available to small Maryland farm-product companies seeking to tap into the export market, the state Department of Agriculture said yesterday.
Companies producing such things as cheese or canned vegetables can apply for funds to cover half of their export marketing and promotional efforts under a program administered by the state Agriculture Department and the Southern United States Trade Association.
"The purpose is to increase exports of Maryland farm products," said Jane Storrs, a marketing specialist with MDA.
"That is where the growth is at this time," she continued. "The mature U.S. market is growing at about 1 percent a year. In other parts of the world, the market is growing at a 4 percent rate, and they have the money to buy our products."
Anna Nagrath, director of the Southern United States Trade Association's (SUSTA's) Branded Activity Plan, said the program provides matching funds of $5,000 to $270,000 to assist companies in exporting agricultural branded products such as food, beverages, seafood, food supplements and pet foods.
"The program is designed to increase exports of value-added agriculture products, which helps us obtain higher prices for goods and keep the money in the U.S.," Nagrath said.
She said the funding, which comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, enables small companies to develop new markets that they could not afford to do on their own.
The funds can be used for advertising, production of promotional materials, trade shows and in-store advertising.
SUSTA is an agricultural trade group representing 15 Southern states, including Maryland, and Puerto Rico. It is one of four regional associations covering the entire country that were established to promote the export of farm products.
Storrs encouraged Maryland companies to file funding applications as soon as possible to increase their chances of approval before funding is exhausted.
The dollar value of U.S. farm exports has been declining in recent years. But Maryland posted a gain in the sale of agricultural products overseas in 1998, the latest year for which figures are available.
Errol Small, director of marketing for the state Agriculture Department, said farm exports totaled $267 million in 1998, up from $247 million in 1997. He said poultry products are the state's leading farm export, accounting for $88 million in 1998.
Other major exports from Maryland include feed grains, fresh and processed vegetables and tobacco.
The state Agriculture Department has scheduled a seminar to explain the matching funding program for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Ramada Inn BWI hotel in Hanover. The seminar is free.