184 agriculture entrepreneurs vie for slices of “working lands” pie

Pent up demand for investment capital among agriculture entrepreneurs has sparked a massive response to the inaugural “Working Lands Enterprise Initiative.”

As part of an attempt to fuel a “renaissance” of the ag economy, lawmakers last year created a $986,500 pot of money from which farm entrepreneurs could apply for grants. The response was overwhelming.

The new program drew 184 preliminary applications from people seeking more than $9 million in funding. The requests are so numerous that the Working Land Enterprise Board will be “unable to invite all … applicants to submit a full proposal,” according to a press release from the Agency of Agriculture.

The time line for awarding grants has also been extended, to accommodate what will no doubt be a much longer review process.

A number of lawmakers say the response spotlights the need for investment capital among a class of businesses that sometimes struggles with conventional financing options. Many of those same legislators will argue that the state would be well-served providing some more start-up cash.

Money invested in value-added ag and forest operations tends to stay in the local economy. And the capital can often mean jobs in rural areas struggling with lower unemployment rates.

Look for proponents of last year’s “working lands” bill to use results from this first round of grant submissions to build the case for giving out more of them next year.