Michaud Unveils Plan to Boost Maine Agriculture and Fishing

Aug 26, 2014

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud at a campaign event in November.
Credit Ed Morin / MPBN

Building on his comprehensive "Maine Made" plan outlined earlier this year, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud says he wants the state to become the food basket of New England through a series of new initiatives aimed at revitalizing the state's farming and fishing industries.

Bonds and grants to provide the capital for farmland and waterfront acquisitions are part of Michaud's plan. But Michaud also hopes to persuade state and municipal institutions to purchase more of their food from Maine producers.

In the last legislative session, state Sen. Chris Johnson worked for weeks on a proposal he thought could help farmers and seafood producers by encouraging the use of Maine-produced food in Maine schools. It was part of the Somerville Democrat's food hubs bill, an initiative to set up regional sites where locally-produced food could be stored and distributed.

The bill easily passed the House and Senate. Then it landed on the desk of Republican Gov. Paul LePage. "It went to the governor, he vetoed it, it came back and we overrode in the Senate and failed to override in the House by two votes," Johnson says.

In any other year, that would be the death of the food hubs plan, but this is an election year, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud is including it a broad package that he says will put Maine on track to become the food basket of New England. In order for it to move forward, Michaud says Maine will need strong leadership at the top. And he says that means a governor who says "yes" to farm friendly legislation, instead of "no."

"You know, leadership starts at the top, it's more than just money," Michaud said at a news conference today. "Maine needs to realize the full promise and potential of farming and fishing. As stated under my Maine Made plan, I want to make Maine the food basket for New England. In Maine, that definitely has the potential to do that. But we need leadership at the top and a governor who's fully committed to Maine's food future."

Michaud's comprehensive plan is featured in an 18-page report highlighting the need for new industry infrastructure, including support for business planning and low-interest loans; increased commitment to protecting farmland and working waterfronts; and an institutional program that will put more Maine products into schools and other state-supported organizations.

"Institutional buying is one of the 10 key policy areas that I'll be focusing on," Michaud said. "I've already met with folks from the Good Shepherd. The fact they have about 600 food banks that they distribute food to, that is an area that is infrastructure, that is already there that we can actually tap into."

Farmers and fishermen also figure prominently in the campaigns of Michaud's opponents. Independent Eliot Cutler released a seven-page plan that proposes to grow demand for Maine products by developing a recognizable and consistent umbrella brand that builds on Maine's unique qualities. Cutler says he would rely on that uniqueness to command higher prices in the national and international marketplace. 

And to assist that effort, Cutler says he would invest an additional $10 million dollars a year into a food campaign that promotes the Maine brand. "We need to develop a Maine brand that people will remember, and then we need to develop an export market where we can take advantage of that brand," Cutler says. "I've done that. I know how to export. I know how to sell. I've sold lobsters to China. I am going to develop export markets for the state of Maine, and that is one of the ways we're going to grow this economy."

Although Gov. Paul LePage has not released a comprehensive farms and fisheries plan, campaign spokesman Alex Willette says boosting Maine's food production is a priority issue for the governor.

"The governor met this morning with Ag-Com, the board that put on the forum this afternoon," Willette says. "He had a great opportunity to speak with the whole board and talk about the importance of agriculture to Maine's economy, the locally-based kind of niche markets that are going on right now that are really creating a great buzz around agriculture, and how Maine can become the bread basket of New England."

All three gubernatorial campaigns say the candidates are concerned about the potential loss through development of as much as 400,000 acres of farmland within this decade, as well as the loss of working waterfront area, estimated statewide at less than 20 miles.