Final Report for CNE08-046
For almost 30 years MBPA has relied on volunteers to offer education, marketing and youth development programs for beef producers. Interest in local beef production is increasing. This is due to a number of reasons. Consumer concerns about food safety and knowing where their food comes from, a struggling dairy industry looking for alternatives to dairying and landowners looking for ways to produce income from their land have all contributed to this interest. The MBPA Directors realized that an organization run by volunteers could not meet the growing need for programs and outreach that could help those new to the beef industry to be successful. They had the vision to see what a part-time employee, or Executive Director, could offer. An Executive Director would help organize educational programs, attend events and write newsletters to help keep Maine beef producers better informed. The Executive Director would also submit timely press releases to local, state and regional publications to inform readers of upcoming sales/programs. This person would also provide recaps of those activities and assist in the development of a website. As a result of these efforts, Maine’s beef producers would be more informed and better equipped to succeed. By making individual producers more successful, MBPA could also prosper.
An application to the SARE Sustainable Community Grant Program was submitted to help cover part of the costs needed to hire the part-time Executive Director for the Association. The grant proposal was accepted and a part-time Executive Director was hired to assist MBPA’s Board of Directors in their efforts to promote Maine’s beef industry.
Hire a part-time Executive Director to:
• Create newsletter/mailings for members - monthly or as appropriate
• Attend Conferences/Trade Shows to increase awareness of MBPA sales/events/educational opportunities
• Develop educational workshops/seminars to provide new or relevant information to Maine beef producers
• Develop an MBPA Member Directory – both print and web versions
• Assist with existing programs/sales
• Submit press releases to inform of and summarize MBPA sponsored sales/programs
• Serve as a resource for all MBPA members
• Work to increase the number of MBPA members
• Creation and management of an MBPA Website
• Help Committee Chairs and Committees to carry out their responsibilities
• Assist the Sales Managers with executing the administration of the respective sales
• Be the contact person for members and inquiries on services available within and outside MBPA
• Remain aware of legislative issues impacting our beef industry and keep Directors and members aware. May be asked to address legislative members if necessary
• Serve as the liaison between MBPA and the State Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, Maine Beef Iindustry Council, Aroostook Beef Producers and other related organizations
• Identify grant and other funding opportunities and seek them as approved by the Directors
• Help Directors with initiatives that will improve and secure the beef industry throughout the State of Maine.
The Maine Beef Producers Association Board of Directors, MBPA, recognized that an increasing interest in Maine’s beef industry was a turning point for the Association. MBPA had always been staffed by volunteers, but the Directors realized that more education and outreach was needed for new producers, especially for those with no prior experience in raising livestock. They also knew that information about new and/or expanding marketing opportunities needed to be shared with all beef producers in the state and that the current system was no longer sufficient to meet everyone’s needs. The Directors understood that a hired professional was necessary, so they applied for a SARE Sustainable Community Grant to help finance a part-time Executive Director to meet the expanding needs of the Association, which would in turn assist Maine beef producers.
The SARE Grant awarded to MBPA to hire a part-time Executive Director was publicized in New England Country Folks, a regional agricultural publication, as was information needed on how to apply for the newly created position. Word of mouth communications about the position were also shared by Board Members and in fact, this produced the person eventually hired. MBPA Applications and a brief job overview were made available to prospective applicants who then submitted applications and resumes. The MBPA Board of Directors reviewed those applications and conducted interviews with the prospective applicants. The position was offered to one of the candidates through a call from the MBPA President: the individual accepted the job and discussed performance expectations, first in the telephone conversation and later in a face to face meeting.
The hiring of the Executive Director resulted in positive change for MBPA. Volunteers have only so many hours that can be contributed and sometimes farm responsibilities had to take precedence. The hiring of an Executive Director provided the means to carry out the background research necessary to get a cost effective website established for the Association. It also provided the time needed to contact all members so that a MBPA member directory could be developed.
The Executive Director discussed upcoming meetings with the Executive Secretary and President prior to every Board meeting to determine what items needed to be included on the agenda. This helped Directors know ahead of time of what topics would be shared so they were prepared. The Executive Director attended all Board meetings and offered assistance to Committee Chairs so that all aspects of programs or sales were organized in a timely fashion.
10 newsletters have been circulated since the Executive Director was hired a year and a half ago. 9 of those newsletters were sent to all known beef producers in the state so that communication could be established about what MBPA was doing and the benefits of belonging to the Association. The newsletters also provided a way to share information from the Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension on topics of interest to beef producers.
The Executive Director has provided press releases to local, state and regional publications to help ensure knowledge of upcoming sales or events for beef producers and others who might benefit. The Executive Director has also developed a list of e-mail contacts for MBPA members and sends out reminders and newsletters through this medium as well. The Executive Director has also networked with Maine Farm Bureau to get information sent in their newsletters or through e-mail alerts to their members.
The Executive Director has also seen that MBPA had a colorful, attractive display available at Trade Shows and Conferences to showcase programs, sales and educational opportunities as well as encourage membership in the Association. The Executive Director has also researched and submitted grant applications and is working with Directors to set up non-profit status to facilitate donations and grant writing.
The Executive Director position has provided a contact for those interested in learning more about Maine’s beef industry or for those with questions relating to beef production.
As a result of this project, over 475 beef producers received 9 newsletters in 15 months. 135 MBPA members also received a newsletter last month. Due to networking with Maine Farm Bureau, over 1,000 of their members receive information through e-mail contacts about upcoming MBPA events, programs and sales. A bison producer attended the parasite meeting as a result. The MBPA member e-mail list is also used to send out reminders of upcoming events. At least 6 people have attended educational programs as a result of these means of communication.
A website was developed that includes an overview of the association, calendar of events, current and past issues of the newsletter, slaughterhouse information, sale protocols and links to related organizations or agencies. Almost 240 hits have been made to the site since it went online in April with 66 looking into sales and 25 checking out how to join MBPA. This site is ranked number 1 by Yahoo and MSN for inquiries about Maine beef production.
Applications to the Calves 4 Kids program went from 3 to 6, with 5 additional inquiries from families wanting more information about the program
About 50 people attended the “Beef Basics 101 Workshop” designed to give information to consumers interested in raising their own beef. Two other educational workshops were held – one on parasites that had 8 in attendance and one on vaccinations that had a dozen attendees. As a result of the parasite meeting, a free fecal screening program was developed for Maine beef producers. So far 98% of the results have shown that pour-on worming agents are not effectively controlling internal parasites. This is important information for producers to have as they can make changes to their worming program to get more effective results, which will in turn improve performance and profitability.
Displays about Maine beef production were part of the Children’s Learning Tent at Windsor Fair for the last two years. Thousands of Maine people were able to learn about the various beef breeds, where they originated from and what distinguishes one breed from another. Each day a different breed was showcased with an animal of that breed available for observation. Paid or volunteer staff was also on hand to answer questions.
The Executive Director has attended 10 sales, 4 Conferences/Trade Shows and 8 agricultural fairs to promote beef production and MBPA. MBPA &/or educational materials were also displayed at all but three of them. The Executive Director has also attended several meetings with various agencies, departments and commodity groups this year to discuss issues relating to Maine agriculture. As a result of one such meeting, the Executive Director was asked to serve on an Ad hoc Task Force to address inconsistencies in the determination of tax exempt status for products used in agricultural production.
Membership in MBPA is up 20% from 2 years ago.
The Executive Director has developed an agenda for upcoming meetings, which are sent out prior to meetings. This has resulted in shorter, more efficient meetings. At the beginning of this project meetings could take 3 hours or more to address all necessary information, but now require2 hours or less.
Numerous press releases have been submitted about upcoming sales, programs and educational opportunities. These are sent to all Maine daily newspapers, weekly or bi-weekly editions and New England Country Folks, a regional weekly agricultural publication. Press releases have also been sent to summarize or present information that was shared at the actual event. This year, information has also been sent to Maine Farm Bureau for inclusion in their e-newsletter or in e-alerts. This has resulted in over 1,000 of their members receiving information about upcoming MBPA events. In addition, MBPA members with current e-mail addresses are sent reminders as well, which is about 25 – 30% of the membership.
The process of applying for 501-C3 status has also been undertaken so MBPA can accept donations and apply for grants to help further promote not only the Association itself, but also all of Maine’s beef industry.
Various grants have been researched and one has been applied for to update the MBPA logo and develop a website. While the grant was not approved, valuable information was gained about grant writing and the website was developed using some of the information gathered.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
A number of educational opportunities have come about as a result of this project. Some were for current beef producers, such as the parasite and vaccination meetings. Some were for potential beef producers, such as “Beef Basics 101” which was designed for those interested in raising their own beef. Others, such as the beef displays at Windsor Fair, were developed for young people wanting to learn more about beef production.
As a result of this project, 10 newsletters were produced and distributed to Maine beef producers. A website was developed and is available for anyone interested in learning more about Maine’s beef industry. More than 20 press releases have been sent to Maine newspapers and New England Country Folks. 5 programs were submitted for inclusion in Maine Farm Bureau e-newsletters/e-alerts. 6 programs have had reminders sent to MBPA members through their e-mail.
There have been a number of accomplishments as a result of this project. MBPA now has a website: www.mainebeefproducersassociation.org, which is routinely updated. Sale protocol information, sale results, upcoming events, newsletters and contact information for current Board members can all be found on the site, as can links to other organizations, Departments or Agencies that pertain to beef production.
In the last year and a half, the Executive Director has published several newsletters for those known to be interested in beef production. This list was developed by the Department of Agriculture and included over 475 names. The first newsletter was mailed by the Department, but all ensuing ones were mailed at Association expense. The Board of Directors felt that all producers, not just MBPA members, should receive these newsletters at least for a while. They felt that routine communication on Association sales, programs and educational opportunities might encourage more producers to become members. Membership has increased as a result, although not so much as was hoped. Current economic conditions could be partly responsible.
Several new educational programs have been offered as a result of this project. “Beef Basics 101”, designed for backyard beef producers or new producers, had standing room only with more than 50 people in attendance. Many commented on the timeliness of the workshop and the sharing of information that hadn’t even been thought of by folks new to beef production. A display on beef production was part of the Windsor Fair Children’s Learning Tent both last year and this to help young people and their families learn more about the various beef breeds and beef production in Maine. An informational meeting on parasites this summer resulted in the development of a free program for all Maine beef producers. Those interested could submit fecal samples from their herd to determine if current worming programs were effective or if a worm program was needed for those producers not using a program. All consignors to the Fall Feeder Calf Sale also had samples from some of their consignments sent in to see if the mandatory worming prior to the sale was effective. As a result, many producers learned that additional or different worm treatments were needed in their herds. By controlling the parasite pressure, profitability for those herds could be improved.
Another result of this project is the submittal of press releases about upcoming events. The information was submitted in a number of ways. E-mails to local, state and regional newspapers or magazines were used to get information publicized. Information was also sent to Maine Farm Bureau, which was then either included in their e-newsletter or sent directly to their members with e-mail accounts. In addition, reminders were sent to MBPA members with valid e-mail addresses. Several people attended events specifically because of these latter forms of communication.
Another accomplishment is the development of notebooks outlining the Calves 4 Kids Program. Information about past participants, donors, and current participants can be found in the notebooks, as can all press releases and other pertinent information. These notebooks have been displayed at various Trade Shows and Conferences where MBPA had a booth and as a result, applications to the program this year doubled over last year.
A directory of those MBPA members wishing to share information about their beef operation will be available in both print and online format by mid-January. Requests to submit information were included in several of the newsletters and the Executive Director contacted all non-responding members through phone calls or e-mail to ensure that all members had an opportunity to be included. Contact information will be provided along with more specific details, such as breed(s) raised, purebred or commercial, herd size, marketing methods, grain or grass fed, and conventional, natural or organic production practices. This is a benefit for producers as well as those looking to purchase Maine beef or beef products.
Several new benefits for MBPA members have been developed through this project. As mentioned above, free fecal screenings were arranged for all Maine beef producers. In addition, discounts have been authorized for members at an equipment dealer and a business that sells/repairs electric engines. Additional benefits are also being explored.
The Executive Director has attended a variety of meetings to represent Maine beef producers. One meeting was with the National Farmers Union President and Representatives from Cooperative Extension, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Maine Farm Bureau and other commodity groups to discuss concerns and challenges facing Maine agriculture. Another was with staff from Representative Chellie Pingree’s office to learn of potential funding sources. A third was to discuss inconsistencies in how Maine Revenue Service auditors determine whether or not a product is considered tax exempt for agricultural producers.
This last meeting had a positive outcome in that the Executive Director was asked to serve on an Ad Hoc Committee for the Maine Department of Agriculture to review and clarify tax exemption status for materials used in agricultural operations. This committee has met several times and is developing recommendations to streamline auditing of vendors, as well as ensuring uniformity in tax exemption status determination and public disclosure of those determinations.
As a result of this project, communication with Maine beef producers and other agricultural entrepreneurs has increased significantly. A paid employee has allowed for the development of more educational opportunities than were possible with volunteer staff members. Collaborations with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension and Maine Farm Bureau have led to more sharing of information as well as more exposure to MBPA activities. Press releases about MBPA educational opportunities, sales and programs have helped increase exposure to Maine’s beef industry for both the general public and those interested in beef production.
Member benefits developed as a result of this project could mean higher profitability for members. Those included in the print and/or web version of the Member Directory will have the potential for increased marketing of their animals or products. Information collected from attending workshops or reading about them after the fact also can impact future management decisions that could ultimately improve profitability. Pasture walks, parasite meetings and grading workshops are some of the educational opportunities provided through this project. A free fecal screening program that was developed as a result of the parasite meeting has additional potential to increase profits for Maine beef producers.
This project has shown that MBPA, its members, related agricultural entities and the general public can all benefit when a paid employee is available to oversee projects, submit press releases, attend functions and provide a link to answer questions or deal with concerns. These results, or ones similar, could be replicated in other situations to improve communication and share information to help increase exposure for an industry while also adding to the profitability of those in the industry itself.
The hiring of an Executive Director has resulted in many positives for MBPA. As showcased above, MBPA has seen much growth in the last year and a half and has been able to provide many more programs, services and member benefits to those interested in Maine beef production. Communications have also vastly improved as a result of this project. However, with growth new challenges and opportunities also arise. It is becoming clear that a part-time position doesn't really provide sufficient time to fulfill all of the responsibilities and demands that have come about through this project. Setting priorities within the current parameters is one option for MBPA, which could result in fewer choices for MBPA members and beef producers. Obtaining additional funds to finance a more than part-time position is another possibility. Finding the funding necessary to cover the additional costs associated with a ¾ or full-time position, however, could be very challenging given the current economic picture. MBPA is committed to at least maintaining the Executive Director position at the present level and is exploring options to increase the position to 3/4 or full-time.