Farming in Massachusetts is a low-margin business, and financial stability for farms depends upon weather, global markets, and other factors over which farmers have no control. Further, initial infrastructure investments are costly, and changing technologies and regulations require ongoing expenses. In many cases it is challenging, or even impossible, for Massachusetts farmers to benefit from the economies of scale that come with large-scale farming, in large part because of the prohibitive cost of land or the lack of its availability. The costs of inputs for agriculture are typically higher in New England than elsewhere in the country, putting Massachusetts farmers at a competitive disadvantage. And the relatively short growing season limits farmers’ ability to compete, as well.
As the number of farms and level of agricultural production in the State have increased, public investment in support services for farms has not kept pace. Since 2009, MDAR has generated more revenue through fees and permits than its budgetary allocation for administrative costs to support the agricultural sector. In FY2014, MDAR’s revenue of $6.2 million exceeded its year-end operating budget of $5.4 million. But even as MDAR’s FY2014 revenue was 5.3 percent higher than the prior fiscal year, setting an all-time high, the Department has seen a decline in staff size in recent years.
Despite the number of nonprofit and private entities providing financial and business services to farms and other food businesses, few of the available services are provided consistently across Massachusetts or are accessible to all businesses that are interested. For example, there are resources available to help beginning farmers write business plans and obtain startup loans, but far fewer services are focused on business development, business management skills, and access to capital. When financing is available, it sometimes saddles farmers with unsustainable debt.
Massachusetts farmers constantly face pressure to keep product prices low to compete with food imported from other regions or countries. At the same time, farmers must ensure that the food they sell is as accessible to a wide range of consumers. Therefore, providing technical assistance for the business and financial aspects of running a farm is critical to help keeping our agricultural sector viable.